A new NASA map shows how Earth is releasing and absorbing carbon dioxide – and it also reveals the planet’s top CO2 emitters based on satellite and surface observations from 2015 to 2020.
The research, which uses satellite measurements from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission and a network of surface-based observations, generates estimates of the amount of emissions per country and how these emissions are removed from the planet’s atmosphere by forests and/or other so-called carbon-absorbing “sinks” in each country.
Topping the list for the most CO2 emissions released are China and the US, followed by India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Japan, and Germany. Meanwhile, countries that were able to absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere than release them appear green in the diagram.
The researchers noted though that the mission was not specifically designed to estimate emissions from individual nations.
The study gives a visual idea on how CO2 moves through the Earth’s surface and atmosphere through time. The method, called a ‘top-down’ observation, creates a map based on increases and decreases in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. This information is then used to calculate how much CO2 was emitted and removed.
The method is one example of how NASA is developing and enhancing efforts to measure CO2 emissions, according to Karen St. Germain, director of Nasa’s Earth Science Division at Nasa Headquarters in Washington.
“NASA is focused on delivering Earth science data that addresses real-world climate challenges — like helping governments around the world measure the impact of their carbon mitigation efforts,” she said.
The traditional, ‘bottom-up’ activity-based method of measuring emissions would have been more costly in terms of time and resources as it relies on recording and estimating emissions across all sectors of an economy.
The research was also able to observe the amount of emissions from the more than 50 countries that have not reported their emissions for at least the past decade. Researchers said that the pilot project can be further refined to how emissions from individual nations are changing.
“Continued observations from OCO-2 and surface sites will allow us to track how these emissions and removals change as the Paris Agreement is implemented,” said lead author Brendan Byrne, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“Future international missions that provide expanded mapping of CO2 concentrations across the globe will allow us to refine these top-down estimates and give more precise estimates of countries’ emissions and removals.”
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