NASA's space and earth science exploration is based here in Pasadena, CA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's facility, which is administered by Caltech. They've launched a satellite in July 2014, Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, or OCO-2. Scientists are studying how carbon moves through Earth’s atmosphere, land and ocean with an array of tools, including a new dataset of the ebbs and flows of carbon in the air. These datasets are run through massive computer models run by NASA, which examines the data and produces visual graphics that show the dynamics that are measured by the instrumentation. One result is the yearly cycle of the earth's biosphere which is the graphic animation above.
"If it weren’t for satellites, we would have very little understanding of the biological activity of the entire Earth," said Josh Fisher, a climate scientist at JPL. "We know from our field studies about how different ecosystems [vary], but we don’t know how robust or representative our studies are at the global scale."
The Landsat missions and the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on the Terra and Aqua spacecraft allow researchers to study the greenness of vegetation as a proxy for photosynthesis, and therefore carbon dioxide uptake, across the globe. Scientists are also using OCO-2 to take a big-picture look at these small-scale processes, capturing the faint fluorescence given off by terrestrial plants during photosynthesis, Eldering said. With fluorescence, scientists have a new way to observe how active – or not – these green ecosystems are.Further visual analyses of the CO2 cycle are available from NASA in their press release, which shows the new model of carbon behavior in our atmosphere from Sept. 1, 2014, to Aug. 31, 2015. Such models can be used to better understand and predict where carbon dioxide concentrations could be especially high or low.
NASA is currently developing the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3 , or OCO-3, which hopefully will be launched in May of this year and will host the instrument on the International Space Station (ISS) for location on the Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility (JEM-EF). Just recently, funding was included in the proposed Federal budget to keep these programs on track, with flat funding for the earth sciences. Lawmakers backed projects that scientists had named as high priorities, but that President Donald Trump’s administration had marked to terminate in 2018. These include four climate-oriented earth science missions: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem satellite; the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 3; the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory Pathfinder; and an Earth-facing camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory.
Update 5/12/18: OCO-2’s specialized orbiting camera offers the scientific community a powerful new tool.
Update 5/13/18: Trump cancels CMS research funding which analyzes CO2 emissions recorded by OCO-3
Update 5/27/18: NASA Snow-Ex program - an ambitious airborne campaign to test sensors
Update 5/28/18: NASA’s building new tools to manage water, as climate dangers grow
Update 7/17/18: Satellites are making real improvements in accurately measuring greenhouse gases from space
Update 9/2/18: NASA: Arctic is warming faster than the globe as a whole
Update 5/25/19: Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 at the eoPortal Directory
Update 7/21/20: Data from the GRACE Follow On (launched in 2018) allowed researchers to calculate that, on average, these seven regions lost more than 280 billion tons of ice per year.