This week scientists have been given detailed insight into the movement of atmospheric CO2 and how it travels around the globe. Taking 2006 as an example, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre have produced visual data in the form of a short video of the patterns of CO2 over a period of 1 year, by using images produced by the ultra-high-resolution GEOS-5 computer model. The video, narrated by the project’s lead scientist Bill Putnam, provides a stunning visualisation of the movement of CO2 once it enters the earth’s atmosphere.
The video illustrates a clear concentration of CO2, depicted in dark reds and purples, over the worlds three highest emitters; North America, Europe and Asia. Plant growth in the spring and summer months result in CO2 being absorbed during photosynthesis (a process called carbon sequestration), and so the concentration of CO2 is reduced. However with the onset of autumn and winter, plants die and the sequestration finishes, thus leading to an elevation in the concentration of CO2 once more. While this annual trend is expected, the concentrations of CO2 being observed are steadily increasing every year, with the most recent figures reporting a level of 397.51 parts per million (ppm). The images also highlight an annual increase in another greenhouse gas, carbon monoxide (CO), over the Southern Hemisphere during the summer months. This is as a result of fires in Africa, South America and Australia, and increased emissions of this gas are harmful to both humans and the environment.
This decade has shown a clear focus on CO2 emission awareness, and in July of this year NASA launched their first satellite mission to provide a global view of CO2. This satellite, Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2), will be used in conjunction with high resolution images such as those produced by GEOS-5 to provide a very clear picture of the patterns of both CO2 concentration and movement, thus aiding climate scientists in advising the most effective action against climate change in the coming decades.
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