El Nino has contributed to higher Carbon Dioxide levels

Ying Sun

OCO-2 has recorded atmospheric carbon dioxide increase in 2015 and 2016, 50 percent larger than the average increase seen in recent years preceding these observations.

"These three tropical regions released 2.5 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere than they did in 2011", lead study author Junjie Liu of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a news release.

The OCO-2 satellite, launched in 2014, is created to provide a detailed picture of how carbon is exchanged between air, land and sea. In South America and Asia this has led to the driest over the past 30 years of weather that was the cause of a large number of forest fires. This change will make droughts more severe in tropical forests, which could cause even bigger spikes in Carbon dioxide levels in the near future.

That 3 billion tons of carbon, while significant, is still dwarfed by the 10 billion tons a year that comes from the burning of coal, oil and gas, said Scott Denning, a Colorado State University atmospheric scientist.

The deputy project scientist of OCO-2 Annmarie Eldering believes that half of the carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere, and half of it stays in oceans or is used by plants during photosynthesis.

As the world warms, the tropics could add to carbon to the atmosphere in the future instead of taking it out of the air and wildfire emissions are likely to get more severe, Overpeck said. This made the scientists conclude that El Nino might have driven the carbon emissions owing to less rainfall in South America and hot temperatures in Africa. The study is one of several research papers in Science reporting results from the OCO-2 mission. These measurements help scientists produce models of plant decomposition rates across the globe. He added that OCO-2 data allowed them to quantify how the net exchange of carbon between land and atmosphere in individual regions is affected during El Nino years.

The last El Niño affected the amount of Carbon dioxide that Earth's tropical regions released into the atmosphere, and in each of the three tropical regions observed, the results were slightly different. For example, in tropical Indonesia a forest was burned down, which caused carbon to be released and ultimately left less plants to pull the carbon back down.

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