Those yellow, red, and purple swirls represent something ugly: carbon pollution. NASA scientists fed emissions data from May 2005 to June 2007 into a global climate model with a resolution 64 times greater than other models of its kind. What they got was this simulation of how carbon dioxide dances around continents and over oceans. The oil-sheen-like (oooh irony!) visualization captures the global reach of the most abundant greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide.
Concentrations of atmospheric CO2 change throughout the year—it’s lower in summer months when leafy trees suck up more CO2. The red shows CO2 concentrations of 385 parts per million, the purple 395 ppm. Last April was the first time in human history that the average CO2 concentration reached 400 ppm. That’s a level many climatologists consider a dangerous threshold to cross if we want to stave off the most dire consequences of global warming. For instance, the last time CO2 was that high, in the Pliocene Epoch, the seas were 30 feet higher and giant camels roamed the Arctic. Not so pretty anymore, is it?
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