Measuring CO2 for Climate Control

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO2) may help to stabilize earth’s climate by mapping the major sources and concentrations of CO2 emissions. Now being prepared for launch into low earth orbit in 2014 by JPL, OCO2 will be dedicated to studying and measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide. Once in orbit, its mission will be to uniformly sample the atmosphere above earth’s land and oceans, by collecting more than a half million measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations over earth’s sunlit hemisphere every day for at least two years.

Once the world CO2 map is completed, it will be possible to pinpoint the areas of heaviest carbon dioxide concentrations and reduce the amount of CO2 in those concentrations by the use of what are known as “carbon sinks.”  Examples of natural carbon sinks are the oceans, heavily forested areas, grasslands, and peat bogs. These areas naturally attract and absorb CO2. Artificial carbon sinks are projects devised by scientists and engineers to “capture” CO2 and “sequester” it underground in pumped-out oil fields and unminable coal seams.

For example, if the map shows a heavy CO2 concentration over an area of ocean, particles of iron oxide or iron sulfate can be added to the water to increase the growth of plankton, which absorbs CO2. If the map shows heavy CO2 over an industrial area, arrangements can be made to capture the CO2 emissions from smokestacks and reroute it for sequestering underground. Heavy concentrations over land areas can be mitigated by reforesting areas that have been deforested for logging, firewood, or farming.

If some or all of these measures are successful, CO2 in earth’s atmosphere could be significantly reduced and the advance of global warming slowed. But many of such efforts will require the participation and cooperation of land owners, factory owners, and the support of the public at large. It will take a willingness to put public interest ahead of short-term self-interest. In the long run, it will pay big dividends for everyone on planet earth.