We are changing the air the Earth breathes.
About a century ago, we started belching greenhouse gases into an atmosphere that hadn’t contained those molecules for millions of years. In the intervening 100 years, the fossil fuels that we use to power our vehicles and factories have quickly become a dominant driver of changes to our climate. The current concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere hasn’t been seen for somewhere between 800,000 and 15 million years. Now, a new visualization from NASA shows how a year’s worth of carbon dioxide is inhaled and exhaled by our planet.
This visualization comes from a computer model called GEOS-5, created by scientists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office. It’s an ultra-high resolution look at the cycle of natural and human-emitted CO2 the Earth breathed in 2006. You can see the plumes of CO2 peaking in the spring and falling in the winter, swirling around the globe like gigantic storms from polluting nations. While trends of rising and falling CO2 levels have typically been tracked using graphs like the famous Keeling Curve (which uses data from one location), the GEOS-5 model uses data from all over the world to show how CO2 actually moves through the atmosphere over the course of the year.
The yearly cycle — simulated by a “Nature Run,” which takes real data from natural and man-made sources and is left to run on its own — shows that greenhouse gases don’t stay above their sources. Wind pushes these gases around the globe, and creates long, polluting tails coming giant emitters like the US and China. The simulation also shows that the hemispheres aren’t equal in their output, not even close.
We are dumping the equivalent of eight Gulf Oil Spills of carbon dioxide by weight into the atmosphere each day. Simulations like these effectively show just how much that is, and why the situation we are currently in is so dire (greenhouse gas emissions are rising every year). This might be the clearest view yet that we have entered into the “Anthropecene” — an age where human activity can change the whole planet.
You can watch a full video of the GEOS-5 model below: