CO2 – the View from Space

NASA has a new satellite called the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) that is measuring CO2 levels in the atmosphere from space and the first results are in for October 1 to November 11 2014.

NASA: Global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from Oct. 1 through Nov. 11, as recorded by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2. Carbon dioxide concentrations are highest above northern Australia, southern Africa and eastern Brazil. Preliminary analysis of the African data shows the high levels there are largely driven by the burning of savannas and forests. Elevated carbon dioxide can also be seen above industrialized Northern Hemisphere regions in China, Europe and North America.

Roger reported on OCO2 on December 21st last year in Blowout week 51. John Reid at Blackjay provided further coverage. John was amused by “above northern Australia”, seemingly NASA’s new name for Indonesia. The post contains several very large graphics and may take a while to load. Click on graphics to get a large image that will open in a separate browser window.

NASA has also developed a super computer model of how CO2 is produced and dispersed in the atmosphere that I will turn to shortly. The upper panel above is the first data from OCO-2 and the lower is a snap shot from the computer model the different colour coding makes it incredibly difficult to compare the two. I have added some annotation to the OCO-2 image. The most important point is to realise that globally averaged CO2 in October 2014 should be about 396 ppmv that is represented by yellow on this map (marked with an arrow on the colour coded scale). Orange and red are areas with CO2 above average and are presumably sources. Green and blue are below average and are presumably sinks in October. A feature that catches my eye is a band of red and orange running around the Earth between the Equator and Tropic of Capricorn with bands of blue either side. But it is far too early to draw any firm conclusions from this initial data!

The model has some things in common with the real data. Both pick out the Amazon Basin and southern Africa as CO2 hot spots. The commentary that goes with the model argues this is due to burning grass and forest. White and violet colours in the model also pick out the tropical rain forests of Indonesia as a hot spot. And both model and OCO-2 data pick out China as a hot spot. Given that other heavily industrialised areas are not hot spots it would be premature to jump to the conclusion this is down to Chinese fossil fuel emissions.

But there the similarities end. The model suggests hot spots associated with the industrialised areas of N America, Europe, Russia and India that are pretty well absent in the real data. Undeterred by what the real data actually shows NASA prefer to see what they want to see:

Elevated carbon dioxide can also be seen above industrialized Northern Hemisphere regions in China, Europe and North America.

I cannot see any sign of elevated CO2 over Europe that is either neutral or a net sink. This is not surprising since human emissions are tiny in relation to the annual natural fluxes of CO2. It would be very surprising if these could be seen from space at all.

The graphic above shows the natural annual fluxes of CO2 between oceans and biosphere, both driven by photosynthesis, relative to annual emissions. It will be surprising if OCO-2 is able to detect the tiny anthropogenic signal against the large natural background flux. The first OCO-2 results in fact tie in very well with these known large natural fluxes showing hot spots in the tropical rain forests and savannahs of S America, southern Africa, and Indonesia during October that is the southern hemisphere Spring. The Southern Ocean and the tropical oceans of the N hemisphere appear to be the main sinks. Rational scientists would conclude that the bulk of the variance seen in this initial OCO-2 data is down to known natural fluxes that NASA barely mentions in their commentary.

NASA recognise there are differences between the observations and the model but chose instead to question the veracity of the data. All this sounds too familiar. NASA have satellites measuring clouds, temperature, sea ice and now CO2. This vast amount of data all points to a single conclusion that the climate science community will have to choke on one of these days. I will make that the subject of a separate post.

The early OCO-2 data hint at some potential surprises to come. “The agreement between OCO-2 and models based on existing carbon dioxide data is remarkably good, but there are some interesting differences,” said Christopher O’Dell, an assistant professor at CSU and member of OCO-2’s science team. “Some of the differences may be due to systematic errors in our measurements, and we are currently in the process of nailing these down. But some of the differences are likely due to gaps in our current knowledge of carbon sources in certain regions — gaps that OCO-2 will help fill in.”

And so to the super computer model. It’s well worth watching and listening to the commentary by Bill Putman from NASA Goddard. Amongst other things Putman says:

In the northern hemisphere we see the highest concentrations are focussed around the biggest emissions sources over N America, Europe and Asia.

Putman has already forgotten that this is a model and repeatedly refers to the simulation as data. It is quite clear from his commentary that the model is deemed to show human emissions in the northern hemisphere even although these are so small they should be swamped by the natural flux. And he also says:

Plants remove CO2 in the northern hemisphere

But then forgets to say that in the autumn and winter they return most of that CO2 to the atmosphere.

Below there are screen captures from the model for the first day of each month. This is to ease an appraisal of NASA’s view of the carbon cycle. Care is required in the interpretation since two separate colour codes are used – one for CO and one for CO2 – and the CO2 scale is complex going through blue, yellow, red, purple, white and pink. The bright white and pink colours are the highest concentrations. The picture is made more complex by the fact that global CO2 changes throughout the year as shown below.

I will let these images speak for themselves for the time being and will return to this topic when more OCO-2 results are released – I can hardly wait! A few of the key observations:

  1. Virtually all of the elevated CO2 levels (sources) are modelled in the northern hemisphere.
  2. With virtually no rise in CO2 in the southern hemisphere, the NASA model appears to not include mixing across the equator.
  3. The Southern Ocean is modelled as the main sink even although it is known that the terrestrial biosphere is likely to be the main sink.

NASA also has a satellite that measures troposphere temperature from Space that does not provide the results they want and so they simply ignore them true to the spirit of climate “science”. Let us hope they do not brush the results from OCO-2 under the carpet as well.

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31 Responses to CO2 – the View from Space

  1. Yvan Dutil says:

    This is a week critic. Those model are based on assimilated ground and satellite measurement. OCO is not the only bird in town. MIPAS, GOSAT are all measuring CO2 too.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      The Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding (MIPAS) MIPAS is a Fourier transform spectrometer for the detection of limb emission spectra in the middle and upper atmosphere. It observes a wide spectral interval throughout the mid infrared with high spectral resolution. Operating in a wavelength range from 4.15 microns to 14.6 microns, MIPAS detects and spectrally resolves a large number of emission features of atmospheric minor constituents playing a major role in atmospheric chemistry.

      Just clips the main 15 micron CO2 emission. My current understanding is that you need to know the emission height to determine CO2 ppm from this.

      Vertical resolution: 3km

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Thanks Yvan, here’s a GOSAT image from August 2013. Mean CO2 should have been 395 ppm, so yellow here = neutral. It seems to confirm the OCO-2 data with only significant warm spots in Amazon basin and southern Africa. There are a couple of farting grizly bears in USA and Canada and three marginal warm spots over Europe. Notably that single green spot over England sits on top of Drax, Europe’s largest coal-fired power station.

      Blue spots over Russia? Any ideas?

      • Yvan Dutil says:

        The main problem with GOSAT is it has a very poor ground resolution (250 km from memory). This instrument was design for carbon sink detection. OCO was design for carbon sources, with an higher ground resolution but, likely, with less sensitivity.

  2. Craig Crosby says:

    Would love to do a detailed comment – unfortunately I believe that we are entering an energy crisis that will trump all this. No matter your view on AGW, if we cannot afford the oil that allegedly causes the continuing increase in co2, we WILL reduce our usage. So, it really won’t matter much (unless the doomers are correct and there is already too much and we will all die) in the long run.

    Meanwhile, enjoy the voyage. It promises to get interesting soon.

    • A C Osborn says:

      How soon is “soon”?
      We are currently enjoying the cheapest Oil prices for many years.

      • Craig Crosby says:

        The problem is the extreme volatility in price. New wells require $70 + to break even. They musy be redone every 3 to 5 years. And they are highly leveraged. Already the first bankruptcies are being file and we can expect massive defaults.

        The consequence is that no new start ups will be able to secure financing and the layoffs on the shale fields are going to depress the economy farther. After a year or so expect shortages as the high cost oil disappears from the market. It will take $100 oil i.m.o. to even begin to entice new activity. And $100 oil will again depress the economy.

        In short, the impact of peak oil is not higher prices but rather higher price volatility. And insecurity in the financial sector. A recipe for disaster since we cannot afford the oil left to extract from sands, shale and deep water and there isn’t enough left in older fields to sustain our level of use.

        • A C Osborn says:

          But as soon as the price rises again they will be back in business regardless of the cost.
          So how will that stop the western world from “affording the oil”, there is currently no real alternative for Transport and Lubrication.
          Higher prices will also make Oil from Coal more attractive.
          Methinks you are one of those doomers you mentioned.

          • Sam Taylor says:


            The oil industry is, at the moment, showing all the signs of being a system which is very unstable, with decreased resilience. First read the following paper:


            If you were then to take time series of inflation adjusted monthly oil price from say 1995-2005 and 2005 to present (or some similar timeframe), you will see then in recent decades all the warning signs (increasing standard deviation and lag autocorrelation, decreases in resilience) are present in the data. I’ve got a spreadsheet somewhere with all these calculations in them. This seems to indicate to me that there is much less wiggle room in the oil system, and that it’s in a more precarious state than you might imagine. Shale’s particular mechanics, of rapid onset and depletion, will only further add to the instability.

          • Craig Crosby says:

            First of all, I agree with all that Sam Taylor said.

            To make the point perhaps more succinctly, the price of oil must be between $70 and $100, more or less. Anything below that causes drilling to stop for the unconventional sources; anything above that causes demand to crater (as it has today), and prices to drop.

            We have entered a very dangerous period – not a total crash, or anything that doomers predict, but a time where serious adjustments must, and will, be made.

            I hope that I am correct, and that those doomers are wrong. Their view could threaten not just industrial society, but civilization as a whole. I do not take seriously any who predict the human race is scheduled to go extinct. Even the volcanic event about 60,000 yrs ago did not wipe us out, and one of our evolutionary devices is the ability to adapt.

            All in all, I have to say I would rather that I be wrong, and that things will go sailing along. I just do not see how that can happen in a closed system, where the means to continue involves using finite resources.


  3. Dave Rutledge says:

    Hi Euan,

    Great post. Looking at the US data and considering that in the late fall, respiration would dominate photosynthesis, it seems possible that the sources we are seeing are the southeastern deciduous forests more than industrial activity.

    The data seem to indicate that the sinks in the Southern Ocean are pretty localized.

    My Caltech colleagues have a major role in OCO and I am looking forward to seeing their data.


    • Euan Mearns says:

      Dave, in USA I thought that rosy patch in the SE may be forests but didn’t know my US geography well enough to say. The swathe of blue and green across the southern ocean is actually pretty large with some localised cold spots presumably associated with algal blooms?

      • Dave Rutledge says:

        Hi Euan,

        I will have our questions ready when my colleagues give on-campus seminars.


        • Euan Mearns says:

          Dave, I can’t wait to see the next data release. Its kind of interesting that they released this data so early, and then see in it what they hoped to see. Who are these people? If we don’t get more within a few weeks we’ll be asking you to go and bang on some doors.


  4. A video of CO2 moving around the Earth from NOAA:

    • Euan Mearns says:

      I don’t understand that simulation (?) at all. It runs from 2000 to 2008. The scale runs from 360 to 375 ppm. Mauna Loa runs from 370 to 386 ppm in that time frame.

      The correct way to do this would be to express CO2 as an anomaly relative to each annual mean and to build annual anomalies atop each other.

      • One explanation could be that the simulation models CO2 in the troposphere rather than as a column concentration, but I really don’t know the answer.

        It’s a little hard to follow the action, but the simulation also seems to replicate the OCO-2 hot spots in the SH.

        Like other models it also shows how the Equator acts as a barrier to CO2 migration. This explains why CO2 in the SH consistently lags CO2 in the NH by a couple of ppm and also identifies the NH as the larger source of CO2 emissions.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Roger, this model animation has been bugging me, spent ages trying to make sense of it today. And then I noticed that the CO2 ppm scale was different at different times. Watch it closely and you’ll see that it is continuously variable. I first I thought this was a con, but it is their way of normalising for CO2 growth.

        All that the simulation shows is the large annual cycle in CO2 in the N hemisphere. It shoots up high in the fall and winter and then falls low in the spring and summer. While the S hemisphere remains more constant. Same applies to the NASA model. All that swirling red that unsuspecting members of the public may think are human CO2 emissions is simply the annual rise in CO2.

        Got me back to thinking about the annual cycle and the amplitude increases as you go North and the amplitude is all but absent in the South. Here’s your chart:

        I’m pretty sure that part of the cause of the high amplitude is snow cover. The whole of the N hemisphere high latitude is covered with snow right now, there is no sink, the surface is inert. In the S hemisphere, the area covered by snow remains fairly constant.

  5. A C Osborn says:

    Roger is that Video based on real data or their “Model”?

    The OCO is basically confirming what the JAXA sattelite found, the results of which were studiously ignored by CO2 Warming Science.

  6. Hi Euan,

    well, NASA OCO-2 or not, it is virtually certain that we have definitely crossed the 400 ppm all year round at Mauna Loa:

    World is 1-2 ppm behind the curve. And that also means we can confidently say Adios Arctic Summer Ice.

    At least, few people had fun for a while…



  7. Rob Slightam says:

    is your schematic of fluxes showing carbon or carbon dioxide?

  8. Rob Slightam says:


  9. Pingback: NASA Satellite Climatology Data | Energy Matters

  10. Rob Slightam says:

    does acidification of the oceans worry you?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Not unduly. The measured change in surface pH is tiny compared with the decrease in pH with depth and inter-ocean differences in pH,

      Figure 4 Comparison of pH and C content of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans [2]. The deep Pacific has much lower pH and higher carbon content than the Atlantic.

      Figure 5 Pacific Ocean pH with depth along a transect from Alaska (right) to Hawaii (left). Note different depth scales on upper and lower panels. The upwelling of low pH deep water is I believe “the far end” of the oceanic thermohaline circulation (Figure 6) [3]. Deep water upwelling such as this brings vital nutrients for plankton from the deep ocean into surface layers. Note that the source of this image is a teaching pdf that contains many great slides.

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