NASA has released a video of a computer model showing carbon dioxide traveling in the atmosphere across the globe.
“Plumes of carbon dioxide in the simulation swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources,” NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center writes. “The simulation also illustrates differences in carbon dioxide levels in the northern and southern hemispheres and distinct swings in global carbon dioxide concentrations as the growth cycle of plants and trees changes with the seasons.”
The visualization was produced using a computer model known as GEOS-5. It was created at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.
The computer program simulates the movement and density of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere using real-life data on atmospheric conditions and greenhouse gas emissions — both man-made and natural — over the course of a one year period. The program also simulates clouds, water vapor, winds and airborne particles such as dust, sea salt and emissions from industry and volcanoes. The video simulates conditions from January 2006 to December 2006.
It shows carbon emissions largely originated from the industrial northern hemisphere. Noticeable declines in carbon dioxide concentrations occur during the spring and summer months when plant life uses carbon dioxide in the photosynthesis process, releasing oxygen as a byproduct.
“While the presence of carbon dioxide has dramatic global consequences, it’s fascinating to see how local emission sources and weather systems produce gradients of its concentration on a very regional scale,” said Bill Putman, lead scientist on the project. “Simulations like this, combined with data from observations, will help improve our understanding of both human emissions of carbon dioxide and natural fluxes across the globe.”
Carbon dioxide is the single largest contributor to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that man-made emissions from fossil fuels contributed 57 percent of greenhouse gases emissions in 2004. Carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation and biomass decay contributed another 17 percent.
NASA says that “in the spring of 2014, for the first time in modern history, atmospheric carbon dioxide – the key driver of global warming – exceeded 400 parts per million across most of the northern hemisphere. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide concentrations were about 270 parts per million. Concentrations of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continue to increase, driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.”
The carbon dioxide simulation has been used internally at NASA for years. This is the first time that the agency has released it to the public.