Another El Nino problem: More carbon dioxide in air

Carbon-monitoring OCO-2 satellite confirms that El Nino weather boosts CO2

OCO-2 has recorded atmospheric carbon dioxide increase in 2015 and 2016, 50 percent larger than the average increase seen in recent years preceding these observations. "In this sense, the 2015-16 El Nino is a glimpse of what is to come", Overpeck said in an email. 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. A gigaton is a billion tons.

In recent year, a surge in the level of carbon dioxide has been witness the average annual increase has been closer to two parts per million of carbon dioxide per year - or four gigatonnes of carbon. These measurements are consistent with those made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). And that increase was nearly three parts per million of carbon dioxide per year or 6.3 gigatonnes of carbon.

But new satellite data shows that the weather phenomenon El Nino is to blame, because it led to dry spells that put stress on plants and trees across the tropics, and made it harder for them to perform their important role of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

In South America, drought stressed out vegetation so much that less carbon dioxide was converted through photosynthesis into oxygen, researchers reported today in the journal 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.

The OCO-2 satellite can measure photosynthesis, as well as the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and so will shed new light on the carbon cycle.

In tropical Asia, the increased carbon release was mostly due to biomass burning.

During that same time, in Africa, rainfall was normal but temperatures were higher than usual. Dead trees and plants decomposed more, resulting in more carbon being released into the atmosphere.

Indonesia was similar to South America in that it was the second-driest year in 30 years. Its increased carbon release, primarily from Indonesia, was mainly due to increased peat and forest fires - also measured by satellite instruments. "OCO-2's geographic coverage and data density are allowing us to study each region separately".

Experts warn that in the coming decades, climate change could lead to even more such warming in the future, as severe droughts and heat waves become more common across the planet.

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