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El Nino has contributed to higher Carbon Dioxide levels

13 October 2017

In 2015 and 2016, the OCO-2 recorded an increase in CO2, which was 50% more than the average rise that has been noticed in the recent years. Now, scientists think they know why.

This record rise in Carbon dioxide level occurred even though the amount of Carbon dioxide emission from human activities remained more or less similar before and after the El Nino. 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.

Normally about 25 percent of the human-caused carbon emissions are sucked up by plants on land, but during this powerful El Nino that was only 5 percent, said Junjie Liu, a NASA scientist and study lead author.

Using OCO-2 data, Liu's team analyzed how Earth's land areas contributed to the record atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration increases.

The OCO-2 satellite can measure photosynthesis, as well as the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and so will shed new light on the carbon cycle. The satellite can observe atmospheric Carbon dioxide and photosynthesis over large geographical areas. And some computer simulations say the frequency of El Nino will increase in the future with climate change, Denning said during a NASA press conference.

Tropical forests in eastern Africa had normal rainfall, but the temperatures were much greater than normal.

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Scientists have suspected El Nino - a weather pattern that causes sea surface temperature and air pressure in the tropical Pacific Ocean to fluctuate, and may last years at a time - might wield an influence on the balance of carbon in the atmosphere.

"These drier and hotter conditions stressed vegetation and reduced photosynthesis, meaning trees and plants absorbed less carbon from the atmosphere", NASA said.

Scientists compared 2015-16 data from the NASA satellite in recent years to 2011 data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT), because 2011 was a normal year, weather-wise, with no El Nino.

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

The satellite's mission is to examine how carbon dioxide moves across the Earth and how it changes over time. Before then, Earth's atmosphere naturally contained about 595 gigatons of carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. While natural processes are responsible for the exchange of carbon dioxide between the atmosphere, ocean and land, each year is different. We must be able to predict how the Earth will behave in the face of climate change, and this study is an important part of that research.

El Nino has contributed to higher Carbon Dioxide levels