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OCO-2 satellite finds the cause of a CO2 spike

OCO-2 satellite
An artist’s conception shows the OCO-2 satellite. (NASA Illustration)

Readings from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 have confirmed that the El Niño weather pattern of 2015-2016 was behind the biggest annual increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in millennia.

The OCO-2 satellite, launched in 2014, is designed to provide a detailed picture of how carbon is exchanged between air, land and sea.

OCO-2 data showed that 2015’s El Niño weather, created by warmer waters in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, led to hotter conditions in tropical regions of South America, Africa and Indonesia.

In South America, drought stressed out vegetation so much that less carbon dioxide was converted through photosynthesis into oxygen, researchers reported today in the journal Science.

In Africa, hotter-than-normal temperatures led to faster decomposition of dead trees and plants, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. And in Indonesia, dry conditions led to increased fires, which also released more carbon.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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