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NASA launches carbon observatory into orbit, to give us our best look at Earth's carbon cycle yet

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Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist, theweathernetwork.com

Wednesday, July 2, 2014, 6:15 PM - In the early morning hours of Wednesday July 2, the still darkness around Vandenberg Air Force Base in California was split by the engine blasts of a Delta II rocket, as it carried a new NASA mission into space. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), now in orbit around the Earth, will soon begin scanning our atmosphere for sources of carbon dioxide, the major contributor to one of the greatest threats to human civilization we've encountered so far - global warming.

Recently carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere reached a monthly average of over 400 parts per million. That's roughly 40% higher than natural cycles have driven CO2 levels to over the past 800,000 years, and is likely the highest they've reached in several million years. With a mountain of evidence revealing how this excess carbon dioxide is causing the planet's atmosphere and oceans to grow warmer (not to mention acidify the oceans as well), and numerous reports (governmental, intergovernmental and business) coming out to inform us of the dire situation we are in if we do not act to curb carbon emissions, a new mission was needed to track these emissions down to their source. 

This is where OCO-2 comes in. The following video from NASA explains the mission and its goals:

With OCO-2 successfully launched into orbit, this marks the 2nd of NASA's 5 'Earth Right Now' missions - following the launch of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission in February 2014. After the satellite is done testing its systems, it will begin gathering carbon dioxide data, with the first results expected in the first part of 2015. 

"Climate change is the challenge of our generation," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society."

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