A NASA scientist’s final scientific paper, published posthumously this month, reveals new insights into one of the most complex challenges of Earth’s climate: understanding and predicting future atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases and the role of the ocean and land in determining those levels.
A paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences was led by Piers J. Sellers, former director of the Earth Sciences Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who died in December 2016. Sellers was an Earth scientist at NASA Goddard and later an astronaut who flew on three space shuttle missions.
The paper includes a significant overarching message: The current international fleet of satellites is making real improvements in accurately measuring greenhouse gases from space, but in the future a more sophisticated system of observations will be necessary to understand and predict Earth’s changing climate at the level of accuracy needed by society.
Sellers wrote the paper along with colleagues at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the University of Oklahoma. Work on the paper began in 2015, and Sellers continued working with his collaborators up until about six weeks before he died. They carried on the research and writing of the paper until its publication this week.
The paper focuses on the topic that was at the center of Sellers’ research career: Earth’s biosphere and its interactions with the planet’s climate. In the 1980s he helped pioneer computer modeling of Earth’s vegetation. In the new paper, Sellers and co-authors investigated “carbon cycle-climate feedbacks” — the potential response of natural systems to climate change caused by human emissions — and laid out a vision for how to best measure this response on a global scale from space.
Read more at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center