Scientists say they've been given the clearest view yet of the way in which carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere moves across the globe, courtesy of an ultra-high-resolution NASA computer model.
A NASA satellite launched in July has freed scientists from the previous limitation of only being able to make ground-based CO2 measurements and provided data for the first fine-detailed model of how the greenhouse gas travels around the world.
The model using information gathered by the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 satellite shows how plumes of CO2 swirl and shift as winds move the greenhouse gas away from its emitting sources, NASA said in a release.
"While the presence of carbon dioxide has dramatic global consequences, it's fascinating to see how local emission sources and weather systems produce gradients of its concentration on a very regional scale," says Bill Putman, lead project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
"Simulations like this, combined with data from observations, will help improve our understanding of both human emissions of carbon dioxide and natural fluxes across the globe."
The computer model has revealed distinct changes in global CO2 concentrations with seasonal changes in the growth patterns of trees and vegetation, and the difference in levels between the Earth's northern and southern hemispheres.
The visualization was produced using a computer model named GEOS-5 producing a simulation dubbed a "Nature Run," gathering data on conditions in the atmosphere and carbon dioxide emissions and then recreating the natural behaviors found in the Earth's atmosphere.
After several years of fine-tuning a preliminary version of the Nature Run, NASA scientists have released a final version for use by the global scientific community.
"We're very excited to share this revolutionary dataset with the modeling and data assimilation community," Putman says, "and we hope the comprehensiveness of this product and its ground-breaking resolution will provide a platform for research and discovery throughout the Earth science community."
The availability of such a high-resolution tool can help researchers project future climate, the NASA scientists say.
The resolution of their computer model is around 64 times higher than previous global climate models, they say. Most climate simulations can resolve climate variables such as winds, temperatures and pressures down to a grid of 31-mile-wide boxes; the NASA model can resolve such features down to boxes just 4.3 miles wide.
The simulation was created on a supercomputer at the space agency's Center for Climate Simulation at the Goddard center.
The simulation required 75 days of computation and produced almost 4 petabytes (million billion bytes) of data, NASA said.