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  • Pedro Barros

Visualization of Carbon Emissions Recorded by NASA in 2021

Updated: Feb 21

As the world grapples with the increasingly concerning realities of climate change, carbon emissions emerge as a crucial factor in this scenario. The rise in concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere resulting from human activities, such as fossil fuel burning and deforestation, has triggered a series of devastating climate impacts.

The undeniable link between carbon emissions and climate change stems from the fact that CO2 and other greenhouse gases trap solar heat in the atmosphere, leading to global warming and alterations in climate patterns. These changes have drastic consequences for ecosystems, human communities, and biodiversity, endangering food security, public health, and socioeconomic stability worldwide.

A series of videos published on July 6, 2023, by NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio offers a new perspective on the volume of CO2 added to the atmosphere in 2021, highlighting its primary sources and origins on the planet. These videos underscore the role of fossil fuel burning by industrialized countries.

Video 1. "This visualization published by NASA of carbon emissions during 2021 allows us to comprehend the staggering volume of CO2 produced by major industries."

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (CO2) provides the most comprehensive dataset for tracking carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere. Daily, the CO2 measures sunlight reflected from Earth's surface to infer the average mixture ratio of CO2 in the dry air column and provides about 100,000 cloud-free observations. The CO2 data are assimilated into NASA's Goddard Earth Observation System (GEOS), a complex modeling and data assimilation system used to study Earth's climate and weather.

Video 2. "This visualization presents the addition of CO2 to Earth's atmosphere throughout the year 2021, divided into four main contributors: fossil fuels in orange, biomass burning in red, terrestrial ecosystems in green, and the ocean in blue. Surface points also show how atmospheric carbon dioxide is being absorbed by terrestrial ecosystems in green and by the ocean in blue. While lands and oceans are carbon sinks in global terms, individual locations can act as sources at different times."

The visualizations of carbon emissions in 2021 underscore the critical role of fossil fuel burning, biomass combustion, terrestrial ecosystems, and oceans in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. They also highlight the importance of forests as carbon sinks.

Addressing the challenge of carbon emissions requires urgent action from industrialized nations to transition to sustainable energy sources and protect ecosystems. International collaboration and individual efforts are necessary to achieve carbon neutrality and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Insights gained in 2021 underscore the need for collective commitment to sustainable practices and policy changes to ensure a resilient and sustainable future for generations to come.

The pursuit of effective solutions demands coordinated actions and dedication to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a low-carbon economy. Ambitious policies, investments in clean energy, technological advancements, and shifts in consumption patterns are crucial to limiting the effects of climate change. Furthermore, addressing carbon emissions requires awareness and engagement from governments, businesses, and individuals to adopt sustainable measures in their daily activities. Only through combined efforts can we confront this global challenge and build a safer, more resilient, and sustainable future for present and future generations.

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