Another El Nino problem: More carbon dioxide in air

Ying Sun

"These data reveal a refreshing change to the carbon cycle in the northern hemisphere depending on the season, including a net increase of CO2 in the atmosphere in the spring from the terrestrial vegetation", leading one of these searches. These measurements were hard to make for most of their 60-year history, involving the physical collection of air samples in flasks at a small number of sites scattered strategically around the globe and the subsequent analysis of their Carbon dioxide inventories in a handful of laboratories throughout the world.

Data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which was launched in 2014, provides more specifics on how that happens and by continent. With its impressive collection of observational capabilities, OCO-2 will enable measurements of atmospheric Carbon dioxide to be made with sufficient precision, resolution, and coverage to faithfully characterize its sources and sinks globally over the seasonal cycle, a long-standing goal in atmospheric and climate science.

"During the winter, however, carbon uptake by plants is minimal, while the breakdown or decay of plant material feeds carbon back into the atmosphere". "And this combined with the emissions continued from the combustion of coal and hydrocarbons over the China, Europe and the United States explains that the rate of seasonal Carbon dioxide to reach the highest levels in April in the northern hemisphere", stated the scientists.

Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide levels spike during an El Nino, the natural occasional warming of parts of the central Pacific that causes droughts in some places, floods in others and generally adds to warmer temperatures worldwide.

The 2015 El Nino "resulted in the release of about 2.5 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere in 2015 than in 2011", said the report.

Then, as spring gets under way and summer approaches, plants begin to soak up more carbon again. In South America, there was severe drought and hotter than normal temperatures because of the weather phenomenon.

In tropical Asia, the increased carbon release was mostly due to biomass burning.

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