Visual depictions of CO2 levels and CO2 emissions

Measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide come from more than a single station on a Hawaiian volcano. There are ground based stations scattered across the globe taking direct measurements. Three independent satellites take global CO2 measurements: the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on the NASA Aqua spacecraft, Envirosat by the European Space Agency and IBUKI by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. For periods before direct measurements, CO2 can be determined from Antarctic and Greenland ice cores. Here are some visual summaries of CO2 data:

This first video shows surface measurements of CO2 varying over different latitudes from 1979 to 2006. The graph is created by Andy Jacobson from the NOAA. It's packed with information - there's a global map displaying where the measurements are coming from, a comparison of Mauna Loa CO2 to South Pole CO2 and the graph expands at the end to include ice core measurements back to the 19th Century.

Satellites present a fuller picture of global CO2 concentration. The next video shows global distribution of mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide. This data comes from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on the NASA Aqua spacecraft. You can download the original movie from the NASA website. Superiposed over the global map is a graph of carbon dioxide observed at the Mauna Loa, Hawaii observatory.

Where does the CO2 come from? The following video begins with a map of CO2 emissions across the U.S.A. using the Vulcan model by Purdue University. Vulcan uses local data on air pollution to calculate a high resolution map of CO2 emissions on an hourly basis. Of particular interest are several animations of how the CO2 mixes through the atmosphere, transporting CO2 from the U.S. over the North Atlantic.

Of course, the U.S. is not the whole world (some need occasional reminding of this fact). The animation of CO2 being transported into the North Atlantic makes you wonder how CO2 is transported throughout the globe. This is displayed in a CarbonTracker visualisation of global transportation of CO2 through 2008 (more on CarbonTracker).

The following movie shows mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide from July 2003, measured by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS). Low concentrations (360 ppm) are shown in blue and high concentrations (385 ppm) are shown in red. In the southern hemisphere, the jet stream flow is more directly West to East. During the period from July to October, the CO2 concentration is enhanced in a belt delineated by the jet stream and lofting of CO2 into the free troposphere by the high Andes is visible in this period. The zonal flow of CO2 around the globe at the latitude of South Africa, southern Australia and southern South America is readily apparent. You can download the original movie from the NASA website.

Acknowledgements: many thanks to Peter Hogarth for tracking down many of these animations.

Posted by John Cook on Thursday, 18 February, 2010

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