El Nino has contributed to higher Carbon Dioxide levels

Carbon-monitoring OCO-2 satellite confirms that El Nino weather boosts CO2

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission was created to circumvent those limitations by providing a platform with which atmospheric CO2 can be measured spectrally from space over large geographic areas, thereby offering an unprecedented capability to study, in great detail, the processes that affect the concentration of the gas over a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

A team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) led by Junjie Liu compared the 2015 data to readings taken in 2011 - a year with a "normal" increase - by the Japanese Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite to figure it out.

Three hotspots at the Equator, warmed by the most recent El Niño, drove a sharp spike in global carbon dioxide increases in 2015 and 2016, according to observations from a NASA satellite. And that increase was nearly three parts per million of carbon dioxide per year or 6.3 gigatonnes of carbon. The NASA satellite showed that El Nino made it more hard for plants to suck up man-made carbon emissions and sparked fires that released more carbon into the atmosphere. These conditions led to a lower level of photosynthesis, as trees and plants absorbed less carbon.

Scientists have suspected El Nino - a weather pattern that causes sea surface temperature and air pressure in the tropical Pacific Ocean to fluctuate, and may last years at a time - might wield an influence on the balance of carbon in the atmosphere.

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In contrast, rainfall in tropical Africa was at normal levels, based on precipitation analysis that combined satellite measurements and rain gauge data, but ecosystems endured hotter-than-normal temperatures. More death and decomposition of the flora in the region caused more carbon production that was not offset by the living plants. "OCO-2's geographic coverage and data density are allowing us to study each region separately".

The super-sized El Nino a couple of years ago led to an increase of 3 billion tons of carbon in the air.

"OCO-2 has given us two revolutionary new ways to understand the effects of drought and heat on tropical forests: directly measuring carbon dioxide over these regions thousands of times a day; and sensing the rate of photosynthesis by detecting fluorescence from chlorophyll in the trees themselves", said Denning. The team also added that these studies would help them to understand the future changes in climate. Before then, Earth's atmosphere naturally contained about 595 gigatons of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. OCO-2 has been studying Earth's climate change for the past three years and collected lots of information about carbon emission and other toxic gases which caused the rise in global temperatures.

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