It will be hard to make good on the climate negotiations currently being worked out in Copenhagen without readily-accessible information on carbon emissions. One day, the Planetary Skin Institute may provide all the info we need, but until then, newly-released data from NASA’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) will have to suffice.
The data, collected aboard NASA’s Aqua spacecraft, is based on 7 years of observations about CO2 levels, carbon monoxide, water vapor, methane, and temperatures in the mid-troposphere (an area located 3 to 7 miles above the Earth’s surface). AIRS has already revealed some surprises–namely by bucking the conventional assumption that CO2 is evenly distributed when it rises from the ground. Instead, AIRS shows that CO2 distribution is lumpy, with the southern hemisphere acting a virtual garbage dump for the emissions released from the northern hemisphere. So while the north produces up to four times more CO2 than the south, winds are actually blowing all the emissions to cleaner parts of the world.
There’s a bright side to NASA’s seemingly-depressing data: it can help us figure out how to best use carbon capture and storage (CCS), and may one day assist in the deployment of geoengineering technologies. While geoengineering (read: planting synthetic CO2-absorbing trees, sending off cloud-spraying ships) is incredibly controversial, it may be our best shot if talks in Copenhagen break down.