Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
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.