El Nino caused record Carbon dioxide spike in 2015-16

Kevin Frayer

Data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which was launched in 2014, provides more specifics on how that happens and by continent. With its impressive collection of observational capabilities, OCO-2 will enable measurements of atmospheric Carbon dioxide to be made with sufficient precision, resolution, and coverage to faithfully characterize its sources and sinks globally over the seasonal cycle, a long-standing goal in atmospheric and climate science.

The scientists have used carbon dioxide data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT) and compared the 2015 findings to those from the reference year 2011.

El Nino is a cyclical warming pattern of ocean circulation in the central and eastern tropical the Pacific Ocean that can affect weather worldwide. The super-sized El Nino a couple of years ago led to an increase of 3 billion tons of carbon in the air, most of the tropical land areas.

And scientists at NASA have concluded from the spike observation that El Nino driven heat and drought occurring in tropical regions of South America, Africa, and Indonesia have resulted in these huge spikes in atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions. In Africa, rainfall is nearly not decreased, but the temperature rise is still accelerated the process of decomposition of dead trees and plants, which increased emissions of carbon dioxide.

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"If future climate is more like this recent El Niño, the trouble is the Earth may actually lose some of the carbon removal services we get from these tropical forests, and then [carbon dioxide] will increase even faster in the atmosphere", Scott Denning, an OCO-2 science team member, said during a NASA briefing, the BBC reports.

It should be noted that emissions of carbon dioxide due to anthropogenic factors has remained at the same level. The study is one of several research papers in Science reporting results from the OCO-2 mission.

Carbon dioxide levels spiked during the powerful El Niño of 2015-16, but it wasn't quite clear why.