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El Nino aided in massive carbon dioxide release

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On analysing data collected by National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite, which measures level of carbon dioxide in atmosphere, scientists have found that the monster El Nino of 2014-16 caused over 3 billion tonnes of carbon to get released into the atmosphere, pushing carbon dioxide concentration to record levels.

What is El Nino?

  • El Nino meansThe Little Boy, or Christ Child in Spanish. It is a complex phenomenon that causes waters to warm up in east-central Pacific Ocean, which in turn causes huge changes in wind directions bringing less rain to south-east Asia and the Indian subcontinent, while increasing rain in other parts of the world.
  • El Nino effect typically last 9 to 12 months.
  • It occurs on average every two to seven years.

According to a report in the scientific journal Nature, the El Nino led to excessive carbon dioxide releases in following three ways:
(i)Hot weather and drought caused extensive wildfires in south-east Asia.
(ii)Drought in the Amazon rainforest stunted plant growth, reducing the amount of carbon they absorb while growing.
(ii)Warmer weather and near normal rainfall in Africa caused forests to exhale more CO2.

Current data on Co2 in Atmosphere:

  • In recent times, CO2 emissions from burning of fossil fuels had flattened out to about 36.2 billion tonnes in 2014 and 2015.
  • Projections for 2016 too indicated that emissions were still flat.
  • CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere crossed 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2016 for the whole year and were reported at about 407 parts per million for July 2017.
  • The rate of growth of carbon in the atmosphere hit an all time high of 2.94 ppm per year in 2015 and slightly below that at 2.89 ppm per year in 2016.
  • It can thus be inferred that carbon was being added to the atmosphere at a much higher rate than ever before even though carbon emissions were flat.
  • The data from OCO-2 has thereby helped in deciphering this situation.