Beautiful animation exhibits what the world would appear to be for those who might see carbon emissions

It’s a strange, spooky looking place. Carbon dioxide gas arises and disappears in cycles and bursts throughout the year. This is what our planet would look like if we could see carbon dioxide (CO2) with our eyes. Scientists at NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office created computer animations of its presence in our atmosphere. These videos show an almost alien view of Earth under the influence of this gas.

The NASA team created three animations, all showing carbon dioxide levels throughout 2021. Each shows four main polluters: fossil fuels, burning biomass, terrestrial ecosystems and the oceans. In the view showing North and South America, we can see how plants absorb the gas through photosynthesis and then release it again during the winter months. There are strong contributions along the US northeast coast, mainly from emissions from fossil fuel burning. There is also a rise and fall in gas over the Amazon rainforest. The team also interprets this to mean that plants take up carbon during the day and release it again at night.

Carbon dioxide measurements over North and South America in 2021. NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio

The animations also show sources and sinks (where CO2 is absorbed) in Asia and show an incredible amount of fossil fuel emissions over China. In other parts of the world, such as Australia, absorption of this gas is much higher, with lower emissions due to smaller populations.

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Carbon dioxide measurements over Asia and Australia in 2021. This is a still from video created by NASA’s Science Visualization Studio.

A third view shows the contribution of fossil fuel emissions in Europe and crop fires in Africa. Overall, the videos provide a very clear overview of the presence of this greenhouse gas and its cycle in our atmosphere. (You can watch more videos here.)

This is a still from a video showing the carbon cycle cycle over Africa in 2021. Courtesy of NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.

Earth is not the only terrestrial planet that has this gas in its atmosphere. We know it’s in the atmosphere of Mars and Venus. And just recently, the JWST reported finding traces of this gas on an exoplanet. So it clearly plays a role in the planetary atmosphere.

carbon dioxide sources

CO2 is an important part of the climate cycles of our world. Sunlight floods the earth and carbon dioxide helps capture it and keep the planet habitable. Without this ability to store heat, the earth would be a different and colder place. There might even be different life forms. So it is thanks to this greenhouse gas that our planet is so livable. But we also hold him responsible for climate change and its effects. In too large quantities, this (and other greenhouse gases such as methane) binds too much heat. Ultimately, this contributes to our world becoming warmer, with catastrophic consequences.

This climate change caused by greenhouse gases is a complex process to study, but it is clear that carbon dioxide is part of it. There are two sources of it here on Earth: natural and man-made. Natural sources of CO2 provide most of this gas released into the atmosphere. These include oceans, animal and plant respiration, decomposition of organic matter, forest fires and volcanic eruptions. Scientists know of some naturally occurring CO2 deposits in the earth’s crust that could also serve as CO2 sources. There are also “sinks” in which the gas remains trapped for a period of time. The oceans (particularly the Southern Ocean), soil, and forests “suck it up along with other plants.” The same sinks can release their stores of this gas.

Man-made (or “anthropogenic”) sources include power generation, chemical production, agricultural practices, and transportation. Note that most of these involve burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are natural gas, coal and oil.

How CO2 circulates over time

The carbon cycle, which helps detect carbon dioxide on Earth. Courtesy NOAA

So we know that carbon dioxide goes through a natural “cycle” in which it is exchanged in the air, on the ground, in the oceans, plants, people and animals. For most of history, this cycle has maintained the seasonal average of atmospheric CO2 at an estimated 280 parts per million (ppm). In modern times, the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities put more CO2 into the cycle and changed its amount in the atmosphere. This pace has accelerated so much that values ​​have risen by 50% in less than 200 years. Today the level of CO2 is about 441 ppm and it keeps rising as we pump more gas into the air. Climatologists assume that with the increase, the global average temperature will continue to rise.

If we look at average global temperatures since historical measurements began (when we pumped less CO2 into the air), the temperature on Earth has risen by about 0.08°C (0.14°F) every decade. Natural variations play some role, but adding more carbon dioxide plays an increasing role. Over time, warming has totaled a 2-degree increase over more than a century. It follows the increasing amounts of this gas in our air. Two degrees is a lot; Even one degree is enough to have a significant impact. To give you an idea, in the distant past, when global averages dropped a degree or two, the Earth experienced what was known as the Little Ice Age.

Warming drives change

A chart showing how global temperatures have changed from 1880 to 2020. Courtesy MET Office Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit.

It might not sound like much, but two degrees is enough to drive changes in our weather patterns, water cycles, and other environmental processes. This gradual warming is why experts often refer to it as “global warming.” It’s not like it gets hot everywhere at the same time. This means that the average annual air temperature is increasing. To give you an idea, 2022 was the sixth warmest year since global records began in 1880.

Maps and animations of CO2 sources, sinks and cycles, as obtained from NASA satellite data, show the cycle of this particular gas in great detail. The idea is to help people visually and intellectually understand how our atmosphere is changing over time.

For more informations

Atmospheric carbon dioxide labeled by source
What is climate change?
carbon dioxide 101
Climate Change: Global Temperature

Earth Observatory temperature changes

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