This NASA visualization tracks 365 days of the planet's CO2 emissions.

The gas that's got Earth in a chokehold can be beautiful—in a damning sort of way.

A supercomputer-generated visualization from NASA and Oregon State University reveals how CO2 emissions flow around the planet over the span of one year.

Using data from NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), a newly launched remote-sensing satellite that studies CO2's global movements, the visualization shows how though the vast majority of CO2 comes from the Northern Hemisphere's industrial centers, it doesn't stay there year-round. Piggybacking on the planet's weather systems, the gases billow from continent to continent, and in the springtime, are largely absorbed by new vegetation. Once winter rolls back around, plants die, and CO2 emissions roar back.

Narrated by the research meteorologist Bill Putman, the visualization is a useful reminder that greenhouse gases don't come in silos. Earlier this month, new research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) indicated that in 2015, CO2 emissions from the U.S. energy sector are on track to fall to their lowest levels since 1994, mostly thanks to a record number of coal plants shuttering around the country. But globally, CO2 emissions are still increasing, year after year—and regardless of where they originate, the entire planet is impacted.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Life

    Why Amsterdam May Clamp Down on Weed and Sex Work

    Proposals to ban cannabis for tourists and relocate the red-light district would dramatically reshape the city’s anything-goes image.

  2. photo: Cranes on the skyline in Oakland, California
    Life

    How to Make a Housing Crisis

    The new book Golden Gates details how California set itself up for its current affordability crunch—and how it can now help build a nationwide housing movement.

  3. photo: bicyclists in Paris during a transit strike in December.
    Transportation

    Paris Mayor: It's Time for a '15-Minute City'

    In her re-election campaign, Mayor Anne Hidalgo says that every Paris resident should be able to meet their essential needs within a short walk or bike ride.

  4. animated illustration: cars, bikes, scooters and drones in motion.
    Transportation

    This City Was Sick of Tech Disruptors. So It Decided to Become One.

    To rein in traffic-snarling new mobility modes, L.A. needed digital savvy. Then came a privacy uproar, a murky cast of consultants, and a legal crusade by Uber.

  5. Design

    How We Map Epidemics

    Cartographers are mapping the coronavirus in more sophisticated ways than past epidemics. But visualizing outbreaks dates back to cholera and yellow fever.

×