OU part­ners with NASA on satel­lite ob­ser­va­tory project

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - METRO | STATE - BY SI­LAS ALLEN Staff Writer sallen@ok­la­homan.com

Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa and NASA of­fi­cials un­veiled a new pro­gram last week they say will give re­searchers a bet­ter look at where green­house gases are con­cen­trated in the at­mos­phere.

The univer­sity and the space agency are part­ner­ing to de­velop the Geo­sta­tion­ary Car­bon Cy­cle Ob­ser­va­tory, or GeoCarb, a sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tory that will mea­sure con­cen­tra­tions of car­bon diox­ide, car­bon monox­ide and meth­ane in earth’s at­mos­phere and gather in­for­ma­tion about plant health.

The $161 mil­lion project rep­re­sents the largest con­tract in the univer­sity’s his­tory. Of­fi­cials hope to launch the in­stru­ment into or­bit in June 2022, said Ber­rien Moore, dean of OU’s Col­lege of At­mo­spheric and Geo­graphic Stud­ies.

At an un­veil­ing event Wed­nes­day, Moore said the in­stru­ment will be placed on a com­mer­cial satel­lite and launched 22,500 miles above the earth. The satel­lite will be in geo­sta­tion­ary or­bit, mean­ing it will re­main above the same po­si­tion above the earth’s sur­face, said Moore, who serves as prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor for the project.

Once in or­bit, the in­stru­ment will make daily scans of North Amer­ica and South Amer­ica and use the color wave­lengths com­ing from the planet to de­ter­mine con­cen­tra­tions of

car­bon diox­ide, car­bon monox­ide and meth­ane in the at­mos­phere above the two con­ti­nents.

The data the in­stru­ment col­lects will give sci­en­tists a bet­ter view of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the car­bon cy­cle and weather events like El Nino and La Nina, Moore said. Be­cause the in­stru­ment will col­lect read­ings daily, it will al­low sci­en­tists to com­pare green­house gas con­cen­tra­tion data against weather data.

NASA Ad­min­is­tra­tor Jim Bri­den­s­tine said the in­stru­ment also will give sci­en­tists a more com­plete look at the sources of car­bon, as well as car­bon sinks — ar­eas like forests and oceans, which can ab­sorb car­bon diox­ide from the at­mos­phere. NASA hopes to use the data to bet­ter un­der­stand how trends on land, in the oceans and in the at­mos­phere af­fect each other.

Once the in­stru­ment is in or­bit, NASA will re­lease the data it col­lects pub­licly, mean­ing it will be avail­able to re­searchers around the world, Bri­den­s­tine said.

Plac­ing the in­stru­ment on a com­mer­cial satel­lite al­lows the agency to com­plete the project at a frac­tion of the cost it would pay to launch its own satel­lite, he said.

A for­mer Re­pub­li­can con­gress­man from Tulsa, Bri­den­s­tine once ex­pressed skep­ti­cism about hu­mans’ role in cli­mate change. More re­cently, though, Bri­den­s­tine has said his views align with the sci­en­tific con­sen­sus that cli­mate change is be­ing driven by green­house gases that are re­leased into the at­mos­phere when fos­sil fu­els are burned.

At a news con­fer­ence Tues­day in Ok­la­homa City, Bri­den­s­tine said NASA’s role is to col­lect in­for­ma­tion that will al­low re­searchers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and the pub­lic bet­ter un­der­stand the causes and ef­fects of cli­mate change.

“Cli­mate changes and it is chang­ing,” Bri­den­s­tine said. “The way we un­der­stand that is what NASA pro­duces.”

[PHOTO BY SI­LAS ALLEN, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

A scale model is shown of the GeoCarb in­stru­ment NASA and Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa of­fi­cials hope to launch into geo­sta­tion­ary or­bit.

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