Map of Carbon Dioxide Levels Over a Year

Elizabeth Borneman


We all know the water cycle of the Earth, where water particles are taken up and recycled through the oceans and the atmosphere in different ways. How much have we learned about the life cycle of carbon dioxide? Carbon dioxide is one of the major outputs of the industrial world and can wreak havoc on natural systems when left unchecked.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, also known as OCO-2, was launched in 2014 and is our major source of information regarding the life cycle of carbon dioxide on Earth. Using the data collected by OCO-2, NASA has created a map of the year’s data to show carbon dioxide activity around the world.

The satellite collects carbon dioxide concentration levels by scanning the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. NASA then created a map showing where carbon dioxide levels are highest and lowest categorized by color. The OCO-2 gathers approximately 100 times more data than the rest of the carbon dioxide satellites combined.

The data collected by OCO-2 showed the northern hemisphere retaining more carbon dioxide in the winter, when emissions are higher and weather is colder, whereas the southern hemisphere levels of carbon dioxide decrease. This is caused by the sunlight and heat which speeds up plants’ abilities to process manmade carbon dioxide. NASA has also been able to put numbers to the idea that there are more carbon dioxide emissions in the northern hemisphere because it is more populous.

Places where carbon dioxide is absorbed into the Earth include oceans, trees and forested areas, and agricultural zones. Carbon dioxide is absorbed into the soil and can influence the soil makeup and plant life in those areas. Nature has a way of taking care of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that mankind has created has thrown off the balance.

The reports from NASA and the data from OCO-2 can help scientists and researchers determine where carbon dioxide is the most prevalent and where it is the most harmful. The data can be used to create new technologies to deal with excess carbon dioxide all around the world. The data can also be used to inform people about how the carbon dioxide levels on Earth have changed since the Industrial Revolution and to generate new interest in how the world and its ecosystems work alongside carbon dioxide and other natural and manmade elements.

A full year's data collection of carbon dioxide measurements from Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) . Source: NASA
A full year’s data collection of carbon dioxide measurements from Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) . Source: NASA


A Year in the Life of Carbon Dioxide – NASA Earth Observatory, December 12, 2015.

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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.

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