Mar 12

Watching the planet breathe

Source: NASA

Scientists have come up with an entirely new way to monitor the health of Earth’s plants from space. In work published in Geophysical Research Letters [1], researchers working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and in Germany and Japan report on how measurements taken from space can open a whole new window onto the planet’s carbon cycle.

Carbon is a building block of life. It is also a key component of our climate. Carbon dioxide — a gas that exists naturally in the air, but is also produced by humans when we burn fossil fuels, drive cars and chop down trees — acts as a thermostat that controls the temperature of the planet. As a “greenhouse gas,” it acts like a blanket that traps heat close to the surface of the Earth. The more carbon dioxide we emit, the more the warming. Since the beginning of the industrial age, carbon dioxide levels have gone up by nearly 40 percent, and the world’s average temperature has risen by about 0.5 degrees Celsius (nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit) as a result. Knowing how much carbon is going into and out of the Earth’s land, air and oceans — the carbon cycle — is critical for understanding how much global warming is likely to happen to our planet in the future. And plants and vegetation are a key part of this cycle.

When plants photosynthesize, they use energy from sunlight to turn carbon dioxide from the air into sugars used to live and grow. In doing so, they give off a fluorescent light — a glow that can’t be seen with the naked eye, but that can be seen with the right instruments. More photosynthesis translates into more fluorescence, meaning that the plants are very productive in taking up carbon dioxide. The amount of carbon dioxide taken up by plants is called “gross primary productivity,” and is the largest part of the global carbon cycle. (read more)

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Jun 10

Carbon dioxide on the rise

Source: ESA

The SCIAMACHY sensor on ESA’s Envisat satellite has provided scientists with invaluable data on our planet, allowing them to map global air pollution and the distribution of greenhouse gases. (read more)

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Dec 09

Looking down from above - Our future


Global warming has been the topic of many debates during the last 20 years. Unfortunately its effects become to be more visible and undeniable at every moment.

Beginning next week Copenhagen will host the historic two-week 15th UN Climate Change Conference (COP15), where government representatives from around the world are expected to decide on the future extent of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by working out a new international agreement before the Kyoto protocol expires in 2012.(Read more)

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