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WATCH: Stunning 3-D View of How Carbon Dioxide Moves Around the Earth

Dec 15, 2016 04:50 AM EST
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NASA has released new realistic 3-D simulations of how carbon dioxide moves around the Earth’s atmosphere. The visualization will help scientists tackle the rise of CO2 emissions.
(Photo : Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

A new 3-D visualization shows in startling detail how carbon dioxide swirls around the Earth's atmosphere.

NASA has combined data from its Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite with a project from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at the Goddard Space Flight Center to chronicle the movement of carbon dioxide (CO2) from September 2014 to September 2015.

According to NASA, the visualization shows information about global carbon dioxide fields that has not been seen in such detail. These include the rise and fall of CO2 in the Northern Hemisphere throughout the year; the influence of continents, mountain ranges and ocean currents on weather patterns and CO2 movement; and the regional influence of highly active photosynthesis.

Rising concentrations of CO2, which is caused by burning of fossil fuels, are responsible for the Earth's current long-term warming trend. The new visualization will highlight the advances that scientists are making in understanding the processes that control the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere and how long it remains there.

The goal of the new dataset is for scientists to understand the processes driving the "carbon flux" -- the exchange of carbon dioxide among the atmosphere, land and ocean.

"We can't measure the flux directly at high resolution across the entire globe," Lesley Ott, a carbon cycle scientist at NASA Goddard and a member of the OCO-2 science team, said in a statement.

"We are trying to build the tools needed to provide an accurate picture of what's happening in the atmosphere and translating that to an accurate picture of what's going on with the flux. There's still a long way to go, but this is a really important and necessary step in that chain of discoveries about carbon dioxide," she added.

"It's taken us many years to pull it all together," Steven Pawson, chief of the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, said in the same statement. "The level of detail included in this dataset gives us a lot of optimism that our models and observations are beginning to give a coherent view of the carbon cycle."

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