Context:

The first-ever satellite-based picture of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration over India has shown that it is way above the safety mark and also matches what has been observed in other parts of the world.

Details

  • The findings are based on the readings from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)

Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)

  • The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) is a NASA satellite mission intended to provide global space-based observations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).
  • Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 was launched 2 July 2014 aboard a Delta II
  • OCO’s measurements are designed to be accurate enough to show for the first time the geographic distribution of carbon dioxide sources and sinks on a regional scale.
  • The data is planned to improve the understanding of the global carbon cycle, the natural processes and human activities that influence the abundance and distribution of the greenhouse gas.
  • This improved understanding is expected to enable more reliable forecasts of future changes in the abundance and distribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the effect that these changes may have on Earth’s climate.
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  • The observations for the study were made from March to July in 2015.
  • According to reports from Mauna Loa, the global average of CO2 concentration in 2105 was 400 parts per million (ppm)
  • In2015, the average CO2 level in India according to a report published in the latest issue of Current Science was 399ppm.
  • Cape Rama, a coastal region in Goa, recorded a CO2 level of 408ppm
  • CO2 concentrations in pockets of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh ranged between 405ppm and 410ppm
  • However, carbon dioxide concentrations were lower over South India. Concentrations over Southern India and the western coast ranged between 395 ppm and 400 ppm
  • In general, the northern and central region registered CO2 levels between 400 and 405ppm.
  • In 2016, average global CO2 levels breached 400ppm

Why is rising Carbon dioxide concentration a concern?

  • It is generally agreed that for every million gas molecules in the atmosphere, anything beyond 350 carbon dioxide molecules, is unsafe.
  • High levels of CO2 and other gases like methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vapour turn the atmosphere into a greenhouse, which lets in sunlight and traps heat that would otherwise escape into space.
  • This not only raises the surface temperature but also has the potential to trigger extreme climatic events globally.
  • Further, rising concentrations of CO2 will make it harder and costlier to suck out excess carbon dioxide.

Causes for the rising CO2 levels

  • The authors of the report have commented that is difficult to precisely point out the causes for rising CO2 levels
  • Few possible reasons cited by the authors-
  • Lack of a CO2 sink
  • Forest fire
  • Biomass burning
  • Vehicular emissions
  • Combustion of coal, oil and natural gas
  • Increasing deforestation
  • The global increase in CO2 level, as recorded in 2015-2016 is also attributed to the impact of El Nino. How? El Nino warms the Equatorial Pacific thus affecting rainfall, drying out tropical lands, and igniting forest fires which release CO2

What is CO2 sink?

  • A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period.
  • The concept has become more widely known because of its role in Kyoto Protocol
  • The process by which carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration.
  • The major natural sinks are the oceans and plants and other organisms that use photosynthesis to remove carbon from the atmosphere by incorporating it into biomass.
  • To help mitigate global warming, a variety of means of artificially capturing and storing carbon, as well as of enhancing natural sequestration processes, are being explored.
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Conclusion

Carbon dioxide levels crossing the threshold constantly remind how humans have made their mark on the Earth’s climate. It is a reminder that ongoing changes in climate might trigger extreme climatic events which disproportionately affect the poor people of developing countries like India as they are more vulnerable.

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