In Africa, higher than usual temperatures led plants to decompose much quicker, causing carbon dioxide to rapidly release into the atmosphere.
"OCO-2 data allowed us to quantify how the net exchange of carbon between land and "atmosphere in individual regions is affected during El Nino years", Liu added".
Global average carbon dioxide concentrations as seen by NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 mission, June 1-15, 2015.
This record rise in Carbon dioxide level occurred even though the amount of Carbon dioxide emission from human activities remained more or less similar before and after the El Nino.
The effect was so large that it was the main factor in the biggest one-year jump in heat-trapping gas levels in the modern record, NASA scientists said.
These findings are important as El Niño events-a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean-are becoming more frequent due to greenhouse warming. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) mission was created to circumvent those limitations by providing a platform with which atmospheric CO2 can be measured spectrally from space over large geographic areas, thereby offering an unprecedented capability to study, in great detail, the processes that affect the concentration of the gas over a variety of spatial and temporal scales.
For instance, in South America, 2015 was the driest year in decades.
"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 Annmarie Eldering, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who is the OCO-2 deputy project scientist.
Two thousand fifteen and 2016 saw record levels of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, even though human carbon emissions have stabilized in recent years. And that increase was nearly three parts per million of carbon dioxide per year or 6.3 gigatonnes of carbon.
In Africa, hotter-than-normal temperatures led to faster decomposition of dead trees and plants, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere. The team also added that these studies would help them to understand the future changes in climate.