NASA Satellite to Track CO2 Levels in Earth's Atmosphere

A satellite designed to collect global measurements of carbon dioxide, the gas most closely linked to climate change, is set to launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Wednesday.

Scientists will analyze the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) data to enable more reliable forecasts of future changes in the abundance and distribution of carbon dioxide and the effect it has on the Earth's climate.

David Crisp, the project's chief scientist, says scientists will have more precise measurements because it will only check carbon dioxide — and, a smaller observational target area will mean less chance of clouds contaminating sample results

"We need to understand what processes are controlling the amount of carbon dioxide today so that we can understand how fast CO2 will build up in the future," he said.

Carbon dioxide, the biggest contributor to global warming, is emitted by the burning of fossil fuels by power plants, motor vehicles and other sources. Methane has a variety of sources, including livestock manure and rice cultivation.

International science agencies report that carbon dioxide emissions rose 3 percent worldwide from 2006 to 2007. If emissions are not reined in, a U.N. scientific panel says, average global temperatures will increase by 4 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100, causing damaging disruptions to the climate.

The OCO is a new Earth-orbiting mission sponsored by NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder Program.

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Japan launched the first satellite to monitor greenhouse gases worldwide in January, a tool to help scientists better judge where global warming emissions are coming from, and how much is being absorbed by the oceans and forests.

The satellite — named "Ibuki," which means "breath" — was sent into orbit along with seven other piggyback probes on a Japanese H2A rocket. Japan's space agency, JAXA, said the launch was a success, and officials said they were monitoring the satellites to ensure they entered orbit properly.

Ibuki, which will circle the globe every 100 minutes, is equipped with optical sensors that measure reflected light from the Earth to determine the density of the two gases.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.