Research

Simulating the Earth

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Computational fluid dynamics and supercomputing are increasingly powerful tools for tracking and understanding the complex dynamics of our planet. The videos above and below are NASA visualizations of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere over the course of a full year. They are constructed by taking real-world measurements of atmospheric conditions and carbon emissions and feeding them into a computational model that simulates the physics of our planet’s oceans and atmosphere. The result is a visualization of where and how carbon dioxide moves around our planet.

There are distinctive patterns that emerge in a visualization like this. Because the Northern Hemisphere contains more landmass and more countries emitting carbon, it contains the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide, but winds move those emissions far from their source. As seasons change and plants begin photosynthesizing in the Northern Hemisphere, concentrations of carbon dioxide decrease as plants take it up. When the seasons change again, that carbon is re-released.

These visualizations underscore the fact that these carbon emissions impact everyone on our planet–nature does not recognize political borders–and so we share a joint responsibility in whatever actions we take. (Video credit: NASA Goddard; h/t to Chris for the second vid)

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