Washington, Nov 18: A 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.
"While the presence of carbon dioxide has dramatic global consequences, it is fascinating to see how local emission sources and weather systems produce gradients of its concentration on a very regional scale," said Bill Putman, lead scientist on the project from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
"Simulations like this, combined with data from observations, will help improve our understanding of both human emissions of carbon dioxide and natural fluxes across the globe," he added.
Scientists have made ground-based measurements of carbon dioxide for decades.
In July, NASA launched the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) satellite to make global, space-based carbon observations.
"But the simulation is the first to show in such fine detail how carbon dioxide actually moves through the atmosphere," Putman noted.
For the first time in modern history, atmospheric carbon dioxide - the key driver of global warming - exceeded 400 parts per million across most of the northern hemisphere in the spring of 2014.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide concentrations were about 270 parts per million.
Concentrations of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continue to increase, driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.
Despite carbon dioxide's significance, much remains unknown about the pathways it takes from emission source to the atmosphere or carbon reservoirs such as oceans and forests.
"Combined with satellite observations such as those from NASA's recently launched OCO-2, computer models will help scientists better understand the processes that drive carbon dioxide concentrations," the US space agency emphasised.