NASA releases eye-popping view of CO2 in atmosphere

NASA releases eye-popping view of CO2 in atmosphere

The National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) has released one of the most realistic views of how carbon dioxide (CO2) gas moves through Earth’s atmosphere.

Scientists have been tracking the increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere for the last many decades using ground-based sensors. But, the new eye-popping view of this critical greenhouse gas has been provided by a new NASA supercomputer project using the space agency’s satellite measurements of that gas and combining them with a sophisticated Earth system model.

More precisely, the new view was generated by the Global Modeling & Assimilation Office at the agency’s Mary-land Goddard Space Flight Center, using data from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite, which is being operated by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

OCO-2 science team leader David Crisp said, “Since September of 2014, OCO-2 has been returning almost 100,000 carbon dioxide estimates over the globe each day. Modeling tools like those being developed by our colleagues in the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office are critical for analyzing and interpreting this high-resolution dataset.”

The 3D visualization reveals the complex patterns in which CO2 in the atmosphere increased, decreased and moved around our planet between September 2014 and September 2015.

The first-of-its-kind visualization highlights the advances that scientists have made in understanding the processes that control how much emitted CO2 stays in Earth’s atmosphere and how long it stays there -- questions that will eventually determine our planet’s future climate.

A post on National Geographic informed, "In the visualization, the greenhouse gas can be seen gliding down the sides of mountain ranges, rushing across adjacent plains, and swirling from sea level to more than 12 miles skyward. The fires that engulfed Indonesia in late 2015 throw off more than half a billion tons of carbon dioxide. And as CO2-absorbing forests grow in summer and go dormant in winter, the atmospheric concentration of the gas falls and rise over the Northern Hemisphere—as if the Earth itself were breathing."

The official release by NASA informed...

Scientists know that nearly half of all human-caused emissions are absorbed by the land and ocean. The current understanding is that about 50 percent of emissions remain in the atmosphere, about 25 percent are absorbed by vegetation on the land, and about 25 percent are absorbed by the ocean. However, those seemingly simple numbers leave scientists with critical and complex questions: Which ecosystems, especially on land, are absorbing what amounts of carbon dioxide? Perhaps most significantly, as emissions keep rising, will the land and the ocean continue this rate of absorption, or reach a point of saturation?

The new dataset is a step toward answering those questions, explained Lesley Ott, a carbon cycle scientist at NASA Goddard and a member of the OCO-2 science team. Scientists need to understand the processes driving the "carbon flux" – the exchange of carbon dioxide among the atmosphere, land and ocean, Ott said.

"We can't measure the flux directly at high resolution across the entire globe," she said. "We are trying to build the tools needed to provide an accurate picture of what's happening in the atmosphere and translating that to an accurate picture of what's going on with the flux. There's still a long way to go, but this is a really important and necessary step in that chain of discoveries about carbon dioxide."

The visualization showcases information about global carbon dioxide fields that has not been seen before in such detail: The rise and fall of carbon dioxide in the Northern Hemisphere throughout a year; the influence of continents, mountain ranges and ocean currents on weather patterns and therefore carbon dioxide movement; the regional influence of highly active photosynthesis in places like the Corn Belt in the U.S.