NASA’s OCO-2 Mission Uncovers Carbon Emissions and Removals in Nations Worldwide

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission has enabled researchers to estimate emissions and removals of carbon dioxide in individual nations worldwide, according to a pilot project published in Earth System Science Data. The project provides a powerful new look at carbon dioxide being emitted in these countries and how much of it is removed from the atmosphere by forests and other carbon-absorbing “sinks”.[0] The research shows that by using space-based resources, countries can gain a better understanding of the Earth's climate and work towards their climate objectives.[0]

The international study, conducted by more than 60 researchers, used measurements from the OCO-2 mission and a network of surface-based observations to quantify rises and declines in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from 2015 to 2020. The researchers were able to determine the balance of how much carbon dioxide was emitted and removed using this measurement-based (or “top-down”) approach.[0] This is particularly helpful for nations that lack traditional resources for inventory development, as the study includes data for more than 50 countries that have not reported emissions for at least the past 10 years.[0]

By tracking both fossil fuel emissions and changes in the global “stock” of carbon in ecosystems, such as trees, shrubs, and soil, the study offers a fresh viewpoint.[0] This data is particularly useful for recognizing changes in carbon dioxide concentrations associated with changes in land use.[0] Deforestation in the Global South, encompassing Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania, is a major contributor to the excessive amount of carbon emissions produced by this region.[1] The data suggests that there could be a decrease in carbon levels in the atmosphere if land management and replanting of trees in other regions is improved.[0]

Although traditional activity-based (or “bottom-up”) approaches to carbon measurement are essential, those methods are vulnerable to uncertainty when data is lacking or the net effects of specific activities, such as logging, aren’t fully known.[0] This is why developing a database of emissions and removals via a top-down approach could be especially helpful.[0]

The researchers stated that their pilot project can be further improved to analyze the alterations in emissions from individual countries in the future.[1] This is critical for assessing progress toward emission-reduction efforts and the Global Stocktake, which evaluates worldwide progress towards limiting global warming.[0]

0. “Taking Stock of Carbon Dioxide Emissions”, 7 Mar. 2023,

1. “NASA to track Carbon Emissions of each country using data from an orbiting observatory” Republic World, 8 Mar. 2023,

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