NASA Animates Breakthroughs in Greenhouse Gas Research with New Tool (Video)

nasa AIRS tool image

Image via NASA

Researchers at the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument on NASA's Aqua spacecraft have given scientists studying carbon dixoide a new tool - daily global measurements of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The data shown in the tool includes information gathered during more than 7 years of research on the concentration and distribution of CO2 in our mid-trophosphere - or, 3-7 miles above the Earth's surface - and how that CO2 travels across the globe. The video after the jump shows an animation of the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere with the Mauna Loa curve laid over it. The visualization is intense.

There are animations available from NASA showing the distribution of mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide, which means we are able to see how carbon dioxide travels through the astmosphere globally, and how one country's CO2 emissions affect the rest of the world. Through the animation, the enhanced belt of carbon dioxide in the southern hemisphere is also clearly visible

The data have been extensively validated against both aircraft and ground-based observations, according to the news release from NASA.

"AIRS provides the highest accuracy and yield of any global carbon dioxide data set available to the research community, now and for the immediate future," said Chahine. "It will help researchers understand how this elusive, long-lived greenhouse gas is distributed and transported, and can be used to develop better models to identify 'sinks,' regions of the Earth system that store carbon dioxide. It's important to study carbon dioxide in all levels of the troposphere."

Thanks to AIRS research, scientists have been able to see important information about CO2, including that it doesn't mix uniformly in the troposphere, that the southern hemisphere is a net recipient of CO2 from the north, and that there's a carbon dioxide belt that circles the globe.

Researchers also discovered the role of water vapor in atmospheric models. The data are the strongest observational evidence to date for how water vapor responds to a warming climate, finding that most of the warming caused by CO2 actually happens as a result of "feedbacks" with water vapor being one of them, which amplifies initial warming.

"AIRS temperature and water vapor observations have corroborated climate model predictions that the warming of our climate produced as carbon dioxide levels rise will be greatly exacerbated -- in fact, more than doubled -- by water vapor," said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M; University, College Station, Texas.

"The implication of these studies is that, should greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current course of increase, we are virtually certain to see Earth's climate warm by several degrees Celsius in the next century, unless some strong negative feedback mechanism emerges elsewhere in Earth's climate system," Dessler said.

The news is dire, yet it is exactly this kind of breakthrough research and modeling we need to have in order to understand implications and make major shifts in how we deal with CO2 levels.

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