Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have never been higher: the average global CO2 levels have reached the 400 parts per million (ppm) milestone in the spring of 2015, The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced in the first week of November. Secretary-General Michel Jarraud warns that it won’t be long before even higher levels of the gas become a “permanent reality.”

In light of this, and anticipating the upcoming COP21 Paris climate conference, NASA has put together a video showing the masses of CO2 floating over the continents, and how they move through the atmosphere. Dr. Lesley Ott explains the why and how of the NASA animation:

The animation keeps track of large-scale CO2 emissions, so large in fact that only two sources have the capacity to produce enough of the gas: forest fires and megacities. The visual representation was possible thanks to the new toy the guys over at the agency got on in July of last year: the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2.

“[These climate models are used to] better understand how carbon dioxide moves around Earth’s atmosphere and how carbon moves through Earth’s air, land and ocean over time,” a NASA spokesperson reported.

The red spots seen over Central Africa indicate a significant amount of biomass being burned in forest fires, while the blue areas show emissions from heavily populated megacities, such as those in East Asia, Western Europe and U.S. coasts. The purple areas show the blending of these two emissions in the atmosphere. The model was built using data recorded over a 6 days period.

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Luckily for us, about half of the CO2 emissions are absorbed by the land and the ocean, NASA scientist Lesley Ott said. The ocean alone takes in up to one quarter of atmospheric CO2, but this may actually hurt us more in the long run, as the oceans become more and more acidic.

“Otherwise you would have carbon building up in the atmosphere twice as fast as it does now,” she added.

NASA’s simulations will hopefully provide the Paris COP21 delegates with a good starting point to try and lower emissions.

 

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