Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most prevalent greenhouse gas driving global climate change. However, its increase in the atmosphere would be even more rapid without land and ocean carbon sinks, which collectively absorb about half of human emissions every year. Advanced computer modeling techniques in NASA's Global Modeling and Assimilation Office allow us to disentangle the influences of sources and sinks and to better understand where carbon is coming from and going to.
This visualization shows the CO2 being added to Earth's atmosphere over the course of the year 2021, split into four major contributors: fossil fuels in orange, burning biomass in red, land ecosystems in green, and the ocean in blue. The dots on the surface represent atmospheric carbon dioxide being absorbed by land ecosystems in green and by the ocean in blue. Though the land and oceans are each carbon sinks in a global sense, individual locations can be sources at different times.
For example, in North America and South America, during the growing season plants absorb CO2 through photosynthesis, but release much of this carbon through respiration during winter months. Some interesting features include fossil fuel emissions from the northeastern urban corridor that extends from Washington D.C. to Boston in the United States. The fast oscillation over the Amazon rainforest shows the impact of plants absorbing carbon while the sun is shining and then releasing it back into the atmosphere during nighttime hours.
In Asia, the most notable feature is fossil fuel emissions from China, which contribute to the increasing atmospheric burden of CO2 over the course of 2021. In contrast, drawdown from the land biosphere is visible over Australia for much of the year because emissions and population density are much lower. By the end of the animation, fossil fuel emissions which are released predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere are mixing southward obscuring Australia.
In Europe, fossil fuel emissions are visible in orange, while red representing emissions from fires is visible over central Africa, where fire is used to clear crop residue. Fires represent a much smaller source of CO2 to the atmosphere than fossil fuel emissions, but are significant because they can alter the ability of an ecosystem to sequester carbon in the future. Scientists are carefully monitoring how CO2 emissions from fires are altered by climate change, which is bringing longer and more severe fire seasons to many areas.
This dataset was created for SOS by the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio from a volumetric version that they originally created.