Reader Question: Does CO2 Disperse Evenly Around the Earth?

December 5th, 2016 by Pola Lem
Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens. Data courtesy of Hakkarainen, J., Ialongo, I., and Tamminen, J.

 

A reader recently wrote to ask us about our November 17 article: “Satellite Detects Human Contribution to Atmospheric CO2.”

“Hello, I read on the site that CO2 concentrations are higher in some areas and lower in others. Is the reason for this that the higher zones are near CO2 sources such as heavily populated areas? I always thought gas spread evenly in a container.”

We asked Janne Hakkarainen, a researcher at the Finnish Meteorological Institute and co-author of the study that used OCO-2 data to make satellite-based maps of human emissions of carbon dioxide. Launched in July 2014, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) was designed to give scientists comprehensive, global measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Hakkarainen wrote: “Carbon dioxide is indeed well mixed in the atmosphere. This means that if we look at the CO2 concentrations globally, the value is about 400 ppm everywhere.” (That’s 400 parts per million.)

Findings from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warn about the consequences of rising CO2 concentrations: “Any CO2 stabilisation target above 450 ppm is associated with a significant probability of triggering a large-scale climatic event.”

“In our recent research paper, we developed a methodology to derive regional CO2 anomalies, which means that we remove from individual CO2 values the regional CO2 median,” wrote Hakkarainen. “When these anomalies are averaged over time, the map highlights the CO2 signal that is not yet mixed and still close to the emission source. The idea is to average out the ‘CO2 weather’ or ‘transport,’ illustrated nicely in this NASA computer simulation (below).”

Another reader asked: “Can someone explain the high CO2 content over the Idaho panhandle and the large area at sea off the Oregon-California border.”

“The Idaho Panhandle anomalies could be related to biogenic sources or fire emissions,” wrote Hakkarainen. For example, NOAA’s CarbonTracker system showed positive fluxes (not including fossil fuel emissions) in that area in 2014.

Launched in July 2014, NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) was designed to give scientists comprehensive, global measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens. Data courtesy of Hakkarainen, J., Ialongo, I., and Tamminen, J.

 

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2 Responses to “Reader Question: Does CO2 Disperse Evenly Around the Earth?”

  1. James Titmas says:

    not enough data: wind speeds and directional patterns needed, also the date which may coincide with leaf decay from trees – data to separate man made from natural seasonal decay. would also wish to superimpose concentrations of water vapor and thermal measurements.

  2. C Gruenenfelder says:

    With all due respect, the explanation provided to address the observed CO2 anomalies over the Idaho Panhandle and southern Oregon coast seemed much more conjectural and (with respect to the southern Oregon anomaly) scientifically vague than would be expected from your well-respected experts. For example, Washington state wildfires (and associated CO2 emissions) were the largest ever documented in the state, yet the apparent CO2 footprint appears minimal compared to the Idaho anomaly. With the considerable quantity of gas flaring that occurs in certain areas of the US (e.g., Williston Basin/Bakken Area – see November 12,2012 Earth Observatory Image “Gas Drilling, North Dakota), one would anticipate a more tangible CO2 anomaly footprint/signal from these areas, as well. In addition, perhaps a similar comparative image could be prepared for global methane emissions to depict apparent anomalies for this other important greenhouse gas on a more local scale than was provided in the March 15, 2016 “A Global View of Methane” imagery.

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