Image via NASA
Google Earth has a new application that shows carbon dioxide in different layers of the earth's atmosphere. Tyler Erickson, a geospatial researcher at the Michigan Tech Research Institute in Ann Arbor, responded to a competition call from Google asking scientists to present research results using KML, a data format used by Google Earth. This is what he came up with - an app that illustrates for us the carbon cycle, a deeper understanding of which can impact everything from mainstream understanding of carbon emissions to environmental policy. Erickson said, "I tried to think of a complex data set that would have public relevance." NASA reports that it lead him to work with data from NASA-funded researcher Anna Michalak of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Michalak develops complex computer models to trace carbon dioxide back in time to where it enters and leaves the atmosphere. With this information, we now have a great visual way to see and understand the carbon cycle, seeing in color where carbon dioxide is cycled into the earth through plants and water or where it hangs in the higher levels of the atmosphere.
To get at this information, a network of 1,000 foot towers with carbon dioxide-measuring equipment by NOAA is set up across the United States. The data is then collected and inputted to form the images. It sounds easy, but was no small task to build the platform. Erickson spent 70 hours programming the Google Earth application so that it would be easy for users to navigate through both time and space, and see carbon dioxide working its way through the atmosphere.
We love how the scientists explain the information contained within the Google Earth application:
Michalak related the technique to cream in a cup of coffee. "Say someone gave you a cup of creamy coffee," Michalak said. "How do you know when that cream was added?" Just as cream is not necessarily mixed perfectly, neither is the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If you can see the streaks of cream (carbon dioxide) and understand how the coffee (atmosphere) was stirred (weather), then scientists can use those clues to retrace the time and location that the ingredient was added to the mix.
We talk often about how mapping can make people greener thanks to the impact visuals can have on our understanding. This new layer can help scientists explain the carbon cycle to people so that habits and policies can hopefully be influenced for the better.
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