“Understanding how the carbon cycle in these regions responded to El Niño will enable scientists to improve carbon cycle models, which should lead to improved predictions of how our planet may respond to similar conditions in the future,” said OCO-2 Deputy Project Scientist Annmarie Eldering of JPL. “The team’s findings imply that if future climate brings more or longer droughts, as the last El Niño did, more carbon dioxide may remain in the atmosphere, leading to a tendency to further warm Earth." 

The research team also concluded that if future climate becomes more like the climate during El Niño, Earth may lose the carbon-removal services of its tropical forests. 

Institutions involved in the study include NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory; National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado; University of Toronto in Canada; Colorado State University; Caltech in Pasadena, California; and Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise