NASA creates a startling visualization of a year’s worth of CO2 emissions

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There are serious and growing concerns over how much carbon dioxide is being released into the Earth’s atmosphere and what the long term consequences of that are with regards to climate change. But it’s hard to understand just how much carbon dioxide is being released because you can’t see it. NASA has now fixed that problem with the help of a supercomputer. A team of scientists working out of NASA’s Goddard Modeling and Assimilation Office have been working on a computer model called GEOS-5 running.

NASA has released a stunning visualization of how carbon dioxide flows around the world. In the simulation, plumes of the greenhouse gas gush into the atmosphere from major industrial centers, swirling from continent to continent on the winds of global weather systems. The simulation, which took 75 days to create on a supercomputer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, depicts CO2 emissions from May 2005 to June 2007. Its superhigh-resolution mapping—64 times as great as the average climate model—dramatically illustrates two often neglected facts. The first is that CO2 emissions come almost exclusively from the Northern Hemisphere. The deep red plumes of the normally invisible gas flow from clusters in the United States, Europe, and Asia, eventually pooling over the Arctic region. The second is that massive amounts of carbon dioxide are absorbed seasonally by forests and other vegetation. As the model moves from late spring into summer, the rivers of red gas begin to fade away—drawn out of the atmosphere by photosynthesizing plants. Then, as the model slips into early winter and vegetation dies or goes dormant, CO2 flows back into the atmosphere.

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