An ultra-high-resolution NASA computer model has given scientists a stunning new look at how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe.

Plumes of carbon dioxide in the simulation swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources. The simulation also illustrates differences in carbon dioxide levels in the northern and southern hemispheres, and distinct swings in global carbon dioxide concentrations as the growth cycle of plants and trees changes with the seasons.

Scientists have made ground-based measurements of carbon dioxide for decades and in July NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite to make global, space-based carbon observations. But the simulation — the product of a new computer model that is among the highest-resolution ever created — is the first to show in such fine detail how carbon dioxide actually moves through the atmosphere.

In addition to providing a striking visual description of the movements of an invisible gas like carbon dioxide, as it is blown by the winds, this kind of high-resolution simulation will help scientists better project future climate. Engineers can also use this model to test new satellite instrument concepts to gauge their usefulness. The model allows engineers to build and operate a “virtual” instrument inside a computer.


Also: Learn about the NASA Data Acquisition System (NDAS).