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Oct 13, 2017

The Effect of El Nino on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide - new research made possible by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2

A NASA satellite has found another thing to blame on El Nino — a recent record high increase of carbon dioxide in the air. The super-sized El Nino a couple of years ago led to an increase of 3 billion tons of carbon in the air, most from tropical land areas. The El Nino made it more difficult for plants to suck up man-made carbon emissions and sparked fires that released more carbon into the atmosphere.

The Effect of El Nino on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide - new research made possible by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2

FIGURE 5 - The last El Niño affected the amount of CO2 that Earth’s tropical regions released into the atmosphere. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The effect was so large that it was the main factor in the biggest one-year jump in heat-trapping gas levels in modern record, NASA scientists said.

Scientists have long known that carbon dioxide levels spike during an El Nino, the natural occasional warming of parts of the central Pacific that causes droughts in some places, floods in others and generally adds to warmer temperatures worldwide.

Data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, which was launched in 2014, provides more specifics on how that happens and how it affects the continents differently.

Researchers found that in drought-struck parts of South America, for instance, plants grew less. There were more fires in Asia, and there was an increased rate of leaf decay in Africa. The findings were published Thursday in the journal Science.

Debra Wunch, an atmospheric physicist at the University of Toronto and one of the study co-authors. She said  "that the data the researchers continue to collect over the next several years, will lead to a much better understanding of the the carbon cycle, where the CO2 is coming from and where it's going.Those are pieces of the puzzle that we're really excited to learn about."

Please see the link to the article on the CBC website:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/el-nino-carbon-1.4352212

The official NASA press release can be found here:
https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-pinpoints-cause-of-earth-s-recent-record-carbon-dioxide-spike

Please see the article in the U of T news:
http://news.artsci.utoronto.ca/all-news/u-t-physicist-team-pinpointing-el-nino-cause-2015-16-co2-spike/