New NASA study offers troubling insight into Atmospheric CO2

NASA released the results of a much-anticipated multiyear study—which looks into the concentrations and distribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—this week. Over the course…

FILE–A newly released, high-resolution simulations of a year’s worth of global carbon dioxide emissions, shows a fundamental aspect of the climate challenge. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

NASA released the results of a much-anticipated multiyear study—which looks into the concentrations and distribution of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—this week. Over the course of the project’s development, a supercomputer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland synthesized vast quantities of atmospheric data into cohesive—and troubling—visual results.

The data consists of CO2 emission measurements from May 2005 to June 2007, which were integrated into a new climate model— that took 75 days to create— on the state-of-the-art supercomputer. Overall, the project’s findings are innovative in their capability to be visually displayed through the new computer model; as such, they present striking evidence as to the unsustainable and dangerous emission rates of CO2 into our atmosphere.

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As Peter Miller of National Geographic suggests, amongst the model’s many findings, two stand out as particularly distinct:

“The first is that CO2 emissions come almost exclusively from the Northern Hemisphere. The second is that massive amounts of carbon dioxide are absorbed seasonally by forests and other vegetation. To begin with, the colored images of the model—which turn red at the points of greater emission—are overwhelmingly concentrated in the upper half of the globe. Upon emission, the computer model indicates how global weather patterns tend to drag the CO2 towards the Arctic region, where they tend to have particularly detrimental effects.”

Furthermore, as Miller indicates in his analysis of the model, forests are taking the major blow as a result of spiking level of CO2 emissions. Forests and other heavily vegetated regions tend to be major reservoirs for CO2 emissions; but the unprecedented rate of carbon dioxide production over the past several decades has overburdened these natural reservoirs. The natural pattern of forest CO2 absorption is also clearly indicated in the model, “As the model moves from late spring into summer, the rivers of red gas begin to fade away—drawn out of the atmosphere by photosynthesizing plants. Then, as the model slips into early winter and vegetation dies or goes dormant, CO2 flows back into the atmosphere.”

Per the latest estimates, humans produce approximately 35 billion metric tons of CO2 each year from fossil fuel consumption alone.

The numbers actually continue to rise and last year marked the first time in human history that our atmosphere crossed the 400-ppm (parts per million) threshold of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. As the NASA model indicates, forests and oceans serve as the main removers of CO2 from the atmosphere; however, the uncontrollable rise in emissions has concerned scientists who believe that these natural reservoirs may have reached their capacity.

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