New video released by scientists at NASA Goddard's Global Modeling and Assimilation Office reveals how the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe in a single year. The results focus on a period between May 2005 and June 2007. At the time, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere ranged from 375 to 395 parts per million. In the spring of 2014, for the first time in modern history, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels across most of the northern hemisphere exceeded 400 parts per million for three months in a row.
Video was produced by an ultra-high-resolution supercomputer model called GEOS-5, which simulates winds, clouds, water vapor and airborne particles such as dust, black carbon, sea salt and emissions from industry and volcanoes. The simulation produced nearly four petabytes (million billion bytes) of data and required 75 days of dedicated computation to complete.
The colors represent a range of carbon dioxide concentrations, from 375 (dark blue) to 395 (light purple) parts per million. The red represents about 385 parts per million. White plumes represent carbon monoxide emissions.
The simulation called "Nature Run" includes real data on atmospheric conditions and the emission of greenhouse gases from both natural sources, such as volcanoes, and human-related emissions, such as those created during the burning of fossil fuels. The model highlights the influence of seasonal cycles and local patterns on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
"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." Bill Putman, lead scientist on the project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
Earth's carbon dioxide levels peak in the spring, and then drop in summer, when Northern Hemisphere plant growth absorbs gas from the atmosphere. Concentrations rise again during fall and winter, continuing the cycle. Plant growth in the Northern Hemisphere has a greater effect on CO2 levels than it does in the Southern Hemisphere because there is more land in the Northern Hemisphere.
The simulation also pinpoints the planet's three biggest polluters - the United States, China and Europe.
North American emissions
In this close-up view of North America - from February 1, 2006 to March 1, 2006 in the simulation - you can see the major emissions sources in the U.S. Midwest and along the East Coast. As the carbon dioxide is emitted, westerly winds created by the warm currents of the Gulf Stream carry the greenhouse gas eastward over the Atlantic Ocean.
Asia and the Himalayas
In this view of Asia, two things stand out: the major emissions sources of the industrialized Asian countries, and the natural barrier of the Himalayas. The Himalayas block and divert winds that swirl around the high mountains. East of the Himalayas, these winds pick up carbon dioxide emissions from the industrialized Asian countries and carry the gas toward the Pacific Ocean. This video shows February 1, 2006 to March 1, 2006 from the simulation.
In the Southern Hemisphere, plumes of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide rise from forest fires in South America and southern Africa. While the previous movies showed regions of major man-made emissions, this close-up shows the emission of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide from fires in southern Africa. This video shows August 1, 2006 to September 1, 2006, a period of seasonal burning in this region.
Scientists have made ground-based measurements of carbon dioxide for decades and in July NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite to make global, space-based carbon observations.
Explore GEOS-5 Nature Run collection