NASA graphic paints vivid picture of carbon dioxide’s movement through the atmosphere


Screenshot of a NASA simulation of carbon dioxide movements in the atmosphere.
Screenshot of a NASA simulation of carbon dioxide movements in the atmosphere.

A new, high-resolution computer model from NASA offers a stunning view of how carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas released through human activity, moves through Earth’s atmosphere.

The video (below) shows plumes of gas swirling from concentrated sources through the rest of the atmosphere as winds disperse them. What’s interesting to note is the visible differences in distribution between industrialized areas in the northern hemisphere and those further south. Carbon dioxide is emitted mainly through the burning of fossil fuels.

The NASA model is the first to simulate carbon dioxide measurements in such high definition. In addition to ground-based carbon-release measurements, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 in July to make even more detailed, space-based observations. While scientists have plenty of data about the levels of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere (the gas’s concentration exceeded 400 parts per million across most of the northern hemisphere for the first time in modern history this year), relatively little is known about the paths carbon dioxide takes as moves from source to the atmosphere and to absorption points in forests and oceans.

The visualization was produced by an advanced computer model called GEOS-5, which simulated the behavior of Earth’s atmosphere based on measurements of carbon dioxide and other gases from May 2005 to June 2007.

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