Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, allowing shortwave energy or visible light from the Sun to pass through Earth's atmosphere while trapping longwave energy or heat leaving the Earth. Greenhouse gases act like insulation and are responsible for making Earth's climate habitable - without them, our planet would have an average temperature of -18oC or 0oF.

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have been releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fules and clearing forests. Carbon dioxide is neither the most potent nor the most abundant greenhouse gas, water vapor is, but scientists have found that carbon dioxide is the gas that determines the greenhouse effect by impacting the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.

MLO record

CO2 at Mauna Loa reached 400 parts per million in May, 2013 for the first time since measurements began in 1958, with increasingly higher values since then.

The first satellite to measure global atmospheric carbon dioxide is the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on NASA's Aqua satellite - launched in 2002. In 2014 NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observtory (OCO-2) to monitor carbon dioxide with greater precision and detail.


NASA Earth Observatory Image of the Day: Global Patterns of Carbon Dioxide

NASA Earth Observatory Feature: Changing Carbon Cycle

Know Your Earth Carbon Quiz

NASA Earth Math Activity: Carbon Dioxide Increases

What you can do to reduce your carbon footprint

Satellite Instrument Information:

NASA Aqua's Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS)

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