Mesmerizing NASA Visualization Shows Carbon Dioxide Concentrations in Atmosphere

A screenshot of the NASA climate model. NASA

Carbon dioxide is invisible to the naked eye, so it’s pretty cool to have a chance to visualize it being emitted from all around the world. NASA has created a computer simulation that shows how levels of carbon dioxide fluctuate in the atmosphere on a yearly basis.

The model "is the first to show in such fine detail how carbon dioxide actually moves through the atmosphere," according to NASA. It was built using actual data collected by land-based instruments around the world. In the visualization, high levels of CO2 appear red and purple; low levels are displayed as blue (or clear if there are no emissions).

It is striking to see how most of the carbon dioxide originates from China, the United States and Europe, while the Southern Hemisphere produces much less of the greenhouse gas. (China recently passed the European Union in per capita emissions, and releases the most carbon of any country.)

You can see that in some areas carbon dioxide concentrations decline over the course of a day, which is caused by vegetation growing and taking up the gas. Then levels go up again during the night when there is no sunlight. Overall levels decline in the summer as plants grow in the Northern Hemisphere.

“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, a climate scientist with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.