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NASA Earth Space

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory Set For Launch Tomorrow 183

bughunter writes "The Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) is slated for launch tomorrow, February 24, 2009. OCO is the first earth science observatory that will create a detailed map of atmospheric carbon dioxide sources and sinks around the globe. And not a moment too soon. Popular Mechanics has a concise article on the science that this mission will perform, and how it fits in with the existing 'A-train' of polar-orbiting earth observatories. JPL's page goes into more detail. And NASA's OCO Launch Blog will have continuous updates as liftoff approaches and the spacecraft reports in and checks out from 700km up."
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NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory Set For Launch Tomorrow

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  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @05:41PM (#26962297)

    I presume by "they", you mean atmospheric scientists? Presumably, they'd follow the scientific method and adjust their theories to fit the new data.

    If by "they" you mean career warming deniers, then they will use it as "evidence" when they go on talk shows and sell their newest book to the ignorant on the internet.

    If you fall into the latter camp, I wouldn't get your hopes up.

  • War of the Deniers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bemopolis ( 698691 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @05:56PM (#26962499)
    Who will win the battle: the pro-troleum anti-AGW crowd, the creationists who believe that man cannot corrupt the Earth since it was created by a loving God, or the Flat-Earthers who think all satellites are a conspiracy from Big Spheroid?

    Whoever wins, we lose.
  • by Locklin ( 1074657 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @06:25PM (#26962833) Homepage

    Because the models can be made better?? When the models can predict sea level rise to the nearest mm in each region of the globe, the exact quantity of ice during the winter of 2094, or the new ocean currents after a 3 degree rise in average temperature, there will still be improvements that can be made.

  • by Qrlx ( 258924 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @06:36PM (#26962981) Homepage Journal

    Seeing everything as a dichotomy = your problem. A lot of others suffer from the same disease.

  • Re:I know.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @06:38PM (#26962997)

    Most of the life on earth today is evolved for the current conditions, not the conditions that existed when that carbon as sequestered from the environment. At a minimum going back to those levels of CO2 would be uncomfortable. Studies have shown that when the CO2 level in a room is 1000 ppm then over 20% of people feel discomfort from it. With business as usual we could reach that level around 2100.

  • by Qrlx ( 258924 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @06:47PM (#26963087) Homepage Journal

    I don't exactly know what obligation I have to do anything for the earth if there is no God and I'm a product of evolution.

    Well then you should give that one some thought, since at least the latter half of your statement is undeniably true.

  • Re:I know.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @06:52PM (#26963143) Homepage

    I know where it went; it is called the carbon cycle. All that CO2 is either in the oceans, in plants/animals and in the air as CO2. I just saved you $273 million dollars, and I take a 10% cut. Check please.

    The point is to know precisely where it's going, to know how much its future capacity to soak carbon will be. For example, here's a known case: the oceans. Since we know that a lot of it is going to the oceans, and how much, we can determine what it's carbon soaking capacity will be in the future as it gets more and more saturated. But, to pick some random possibility... carbonates formed from exposed surface rock. If we don't how much CO2 is going into forming additional carbonates naturally, we have no ability to model how much that ability will fade off in the future.

    The current models, which generally assume that unknown carbon sinks will remain equally able to keep sinking an unlimited amount of carbon into the future, are likely very overly optimistic on this front on this front.

    We've probably made the world a better place for our friends who breathe the stuff.

    Most of the world's oceans (2/3rds of the world's available area for photosynthesis) are not CO2-limited, but nutrient-limited. In particular, iron.

    Can someone please answer this: If we are burning fossil fuels; presumably all this carbon we are burning was part of the carbon cycle 100s of millions of years ago.

    Not necessarily. Oil, and even natural gas and coal deposits are just a fraction of all entombed carbon. There's also shales and all sorts of carbonate minerals. Carbon levels are constantly in flux. Back during the Cambrian, they hit as high as 7,000 ppm. By the mid-Carboniferous, they were down to around 350 ppm. But that took place over the course of 250 million years, an average change of 1ppm every 40,000 years. Some periods were steeper than others, of course; the mid Devonian dropped a ppm every few thousand years, and there are probably more dramatic spikes that we just don't have the resolution to see (more like what we see in the Holocene record). But nothing in the historical record even approaches a relentless 1 1/2 ppm/year.

    It's not *that* the Earth is changing. The Earth always changes. The problem is how fast it's changing. I don't know about yours, but my species certainly can't rapidly evolve over the course of a few dozen generations. And much of our infrastructure is fixed in place, unable to adapt at all; you can't just pack people up from areas that are drying out and move them to new Canadian/Siberian farmland without huge expense and hardship.

  • First observation (Score:2, Insightful)

    by EZLeeAmused ( 869996 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @06:55PM (#26963171)
    A huge plume of CO2 located off the eastern coast of Florida.
  • by slashdotlurker ( 1113853 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @07:02PM (#26963237)
    Particularly apt name.
  • by AstrumPreliator ( 708436 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @07:09PM (#26963307)
    Of course there will always be people like the ones you describe. People on Slashdot throwing around the word "denialist" is starting to annoy me now though. What, was heretic too strong of a word for you? I mean seriously, how do you deal with someone who believes the Earth is flat? Personally if they believe the Earth is flat then there's no reason for me to talk to them, their mind is made up. Scientific reasoning will never reach them. Lately Slashdot commenters, for whatever reason, have moved away from scientific reasoning onto name calling and petty bickering though. Apparently global climate change is serious enough to warrant discussion, but not well thought out discussion, just ad hominem attacks. Not to mention half the people who are called "denialists" are just people arguing about the extent of anthropogenic climate change, but agree the average temperature of the Earth is rising faster than current models predict it should.

    I'm usually too disgusted by these threads on Slashdot to post anymore. This time I'm posting rather early in hopes that at least a few people will read this.
  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @07:16PM (#26963401) Homepage

    It seems impossible to have any reasoned discussion about carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere has increased from 290 ppm in pre-industrial times to 365 ppm today and that increase is NOT having a significant effect on climate.

    Oh really? []

    In the 'global warming' scenario, short wavelength radiation from the sun passes through the atmosphere and warms the earth. The warmed earth then re-radiates long-wavelength infra-red radiation back into space, or at least tries to but is allegedly stopped by carbon dioxide. So...what's wrong with this? CO2 absorbs infra-red radiation in only a narrow wavelength band and it will not absorb any infra-red radiation with a wavelength outside of its absorption band. There is already far more CO2 in the atmosphere than is needed to effectively absorb ALL infra-red radiation in the CO2 absorption band. (A much bigger absorber of infra-red radiation in the atmosphere is...water vapor...but that's another movie.)

    Sorry, but you should really start reading peer-reviewed research and stop listening to viscounts. First off, for something to be a greenhouse gas, it *needs* to be selective on what it blocks. An optimal greenhouse gas is *transparent* to light in the visible and near-IR spectrum, and *opaque* to far-IR. You need to let the sun's energy in (mostly visible and near-IR) while making it harder for what the Earth radiates (mostly far-IR) out. A gas that blocks everything evenly is not a greenhouse gas.

    Secondly, your argument is akin to saying that if a reflective blanket keeps 95% of your heat in, putting another reflective blanket around you won't help much. Earth is not a simple physics problem with a surface, a single one-pass medium, and an energy input. Light is constantly absorbed and re-radiated all throughout the atmosphere. The upper layers are colder than the upper layers. The higher the absorption of far-IR, the slower energy can transfer from the lower layers to the upper layers; the lower the absorption of near-IR and visible, the faster energy can transfer from the upper layers to the surface (or even straight to the surface). In short, until a 10-meter or so column of atmosphere can absorb 95%, increasing CO2 levels is a *major* impactor on surface temperature.

    Lastly, water vapor is 100% feedback, not forcing. Water vapor has a tiny residency in the atmosphere (days), while CO2 has a long residency (hundreds of years). Any disequilibrium in water vapor is rapidly remedied. Now, on *geological time scales*, CO2 is feedback, mostly to Milankovitch cycles. But that's on the scale of tens of thousands of years.

    The effect of increasing CO2 concentration is therefore only to cause absorption to occur at a slightly lower altitude in the atmosphere and after carbon dioxide absorbs infra-red radiation, it quickly collides with nearby, and far more abundant, oxygen and nitrogen molecules, transferring heat to them. These then re-radiate heat out into space.

    Wow, was the person you read that from a comedian or just an idiot? CO2 is perfectly capable of radiating IR. *All* objects in the universe are. It doesn't matter whether it's CO2, O2, N2, or what. There are different spectral lines (rather than a perfect blackbody), but it's not a practical distinction. The energy can be radiated in any direction -- up or down. It's almost invariably reabsorbed unless it's in the outermost fringes of the atmosphere. As mentioned before, the more transparent the atmosphere is to "incoming" radiation types, the faster solar energy can migrate to the surface. The less transparent it is to "outgoing" types, the slower far-IR energy can migrate away from the surface. I can make you a drawing or a rudimentary python script to illustrate this concept if you're still having trouble with it.

    So...if carbon dioxide is not changing our climate, what is? Look to the Sun

  • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @10:05PM (#26964857) Journal

    those who don't find the need to protect themselves, their descendants or their environment are going to kill themselves off.

    I actually don't see any real obligation, if I were an atheistic evolutionist, to do anything about the earth. Or, for that matter, to do anything for humanity. Unless I see a distinct benefit in it for me AND I have a desire to reap said benefit.

    From my point of view as an atheist and a scientist [I am an evolutionist but also a gravityist, relativityist etc...] the answer as to why someone suc has myself would bother helping anyone other than myself is that I feel good doing so. Just as any other normal, rational human being would. Part of the reason why this is the case is because of all of that natural selection combined with genetic change that has been going on for billions of years.. those species that had a tendency to cooperate of their own free will no doubt had an advantage than those who exercised their primitive ignorant self interest instead. This is likely a point you would agree with yes? That voluntary cooperation is better than pure ignorant selfishness? The point is this: cooperative behavior is not dependant on the belief of your subservience to a deity of some sort. It is a rather useful set of adaptive behaviors that assist our species to exist and function normally in society. It is normal for human beings to cooperate because they know that doing so makes them feel good about their actions.

  • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @10:26PM (#26964997)

    Or, they would have just been wrong.

    Of course they are "wrong", in the same sense that Newton or Darwin were "wrong". Science is no fun at all if we have all of the answers. In fact, it would be completely obsolete. Science is just a method used to try to understand nature. Climate science is young, and it's only been in the last decade that any real consensus has arisen regarding global warming.

    2008 came in cooler, and we'll see how 2009 does.

    That's not considered to be a long-term trend. Look at the data from the past 100 years... lots of down years, yet the general trend is upward.

"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama