With so much greenwashing and delusional thinking from big companies about their real CO2 emissions, the need to refine the process of tracking carbon through satellite imagery continues to be enhanced. Accurate measurements will either make or break us on our quest to stay below 1.5ºC within the next eight years. Cutting our national carbon emissions 50% by 2030 is a very tall order to fill. Knowing who’s continuing to emit high levels of CO2 and methane, and whether carbon cutting initiatives are or aren’t working, is critical to our success as we fight our way up this steep cliff.
John Doerr states in his book, Speed & Scale, An Action Plan for Solving Our Climate Crisis Now: “If we fail to measure what matters, there’s no clear way to get where we need to go. To get to net-zero in time, we must measure precisely how much carbon the planet is emitting, where is it happening, who is responsible, all in real time.”
NASA is determined to be the eye in the sky that gathers the much needed accurate measurements through it’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) strapped to the International Space Station (ISS). OCO-3 orbits the Earth and collects many dozens of regional images per day in blocks that are 50 miles x 50 miles. Cities, farms, forests, suburbia. The images are taken from sun up to sun down. “This is very important,” Annmarie Eldering, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s OCO-3 Project Scientist, explains. “Plants respond to sun, so we need to see them behaving across the day.” The OCO-3’s predecessor, OCO-2, could only take images at 1:30 PM, 16 days on, 16 days off. Collecting measurements all day during daylight is a significant advancement.
“The capability of OCO-3 is to map out some of these areas and see some change over time. That’s how we’re going to advance our understanding and modeling for the future, and understanding of climate.”Annmarie Eldering, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
An excellent example of what Eldering is talking about is the way the CO2 levels rise and fall in the farm belt depending on the season. During the spring, when farmers plow and release the carbon stored in the soil, the satellite can see and track this. In June, when the plants are busy photosynthesizing, absorbing significant amounts of carbon, and quickly growing, the satellite can see the carbon levels decrease. Regenerative farmers then have the tangible proof they need to educate conventional farmers about why no-till farming practices are best. Seed drilling equipment was invented to support the no-till movement. The documentary Kiss the Ground was able to highlight these game-changing facts and educate the public on why regenerative farming is so vital to saving humanity. Kiss the Ground included the satellite video from NASA’s OCO-2 report to highlight this.
The OCO was originally tested back in 2009, updated in 2014 to OCO-2, and reconfigured again in 2019 to become OCO-3. The majority of kinks have now been worked out. We should feel confident in the readings. We need to believe in their accuracy in order to make the correct decisions that will transform our culture into the sustainable, carbon-neutral culture we need it to be.
The following OCO-3 Quick Facts were taken directly from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology:
- OCO-3 is a vital part of the continuous global CO2 measurements that provide aerial views of regional carbon sources and sinks.
- OCO-3 can take measurements at different times of the day, which diminishes uncertainty about the readings and assists in assessing how measurements taken from space can roll back human carbon emissions on Earth. Human CO2 emissions are the greatest question mark in our carbon budget and thus there’s a great desire to monitor and constrain.
- OCO-3 measurements can be combined with other measurements such as biomass and evapotranspiration to examine operational details in Earth’s ecosystems.
- OCO-2 demonstrated that satellite imagery can accurately measure carbon levels better than 1 ppm. OCO-3is expected to have the same heightened accuracy.
Knowing what we now know about OCO tracking over the farm belt, I hope Eldering and her colleagues can measure the impact that painting roofs white, and parking lots and roads white or light grey, will have on carbon emissions. There’s anecdotal evidence (lower energy bills) that points to high albedo colors such as white and light grey substantially decreasing carbon emissions in buildings, but a satellite image showing the lower carbon reading might be what really wins the hearts and minds of billions of people across the globe, and will inspire them to swiftly take action.
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