NASA Science Enables First-of-its-Kind Detection of Reduced Human CO2 Emissions


For the first time, researchers have spotted short-term, regional fluctuations in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) across the globe due to emissions from human activities.

Using a combination of NASA satellites and atmospheric modeling, the scientists performed a first-of-its-kind detection of human CO2 emissions changes. The new study uses data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) to measure drops in CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic from space. With daily and monthly data products now available to the public, this opens new possibilities for tracking the collective effects of human activities on CO2 concentrations in near real-time.

Previous studies investigated the effects of lockdowns early in the pandemic and found that global CO2 levels dropped slightly in 2020. However, by combining OCO-2’s high-resolution data with modeling and data analysis tools from NASA’s Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS), the team was able to narrow down which monthly changes were due to human activity and which were due to natural causes at a regional scale. This confirms previous estimates based on economic and human activity data.

The team’s measurements showed that in the Northern Hemisphere, human-generated growth in CO2 concentrations dropped from February through May 2020 and rebounded during the summer, consistent with a global emissions decrease of 3% to 13% for the year.

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Image via NASA Goddard Space Flight Center