Research and Application News
First near-global measurements of isotopic nitrous oxide
31 January 2018
By harnessing satellite data collected from low-Earth orbit, scientists can now track the distribution of atmospheric nitrous oxide and its isotopes.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a double-edged sword. Whereas the World Health Organization lists the compound as an essential medicine for its anesthetic properties, it is also a greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide as well as the stratosphere's greatest ozone-depleting substance.
Because nitrous oxide has both natural and anthropogenic sources, pin-pointing its origin and understanding how this gas circulates through the atmosphere are crucial steps for reducing its climatic and environmental impacts. Although isotopic variants of nitrous oxide can be used to trace its flow through the atmosphere, scientists have been unable to fully harness these tools due to the severe constraints imposed by having to collect data from aircraft and high-altitude balloons.
Image credit: NASA - New research uses data from the SCISAT satellite to track atmospheric nitrous oxide.