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NASA's trippy video shows a year of C02 emissions in 3 minutes

A gorgeous, trippy simulation shows how carbon dioxide moves through Earth's atmosphere during a single year

The trippy video you see above is the highest-resolution model yet of how carbon dioxide moves around the Earth's atmosphere.

The scientists at Goddard Space Flight Center who created the computer model call it "Nature Run," and though it's hypnotic to watch, it also provides researchers with a wealth of scientific information.

"For us, this is really the first time that we can see how carbon dioxide travels over a long, consecutive time at this high a resolution," said Bill Putman of the NASA center in Greenbelt, Md.

The program combines actual observations of carbon dioxide, sulfur and carbon monoxide emissions with simulations of wind, clouds, water vapor, dust, black carbon, sea salt and even volcano eruptions. It is so complex that it took 75 days of dedicated computer time to run it.

The resolution of the model is about 64 times greater than that of other global climate models.

Putman said his team hopes to send computer models of satellites into the Nature Run, allowing the virtual satellites to monitor the virtual world of the computer model. This could help scientists understand what instruments would be most useful to put on future satellites.

The video above condenses one year of carbon dioxide emission levels into just a few minutes.

As you watch the video, notice that the greenhouse gas doesn't simply hover over the place where it was emitted (primarily through the burning of fossil fuels). Instead it gets carried around the planet by winds.

Keep your eye on the dark-red plumes rising off the United States, for example, and watch as they swirl out across the Atlantic Ocean. 

About one minute, 20 seconds into the video, you'll notice that the swirling red begins to fade to yellow and then to blue, indicating lower concentrations. This is attributed to the effects of summertime plants as they suck up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

It looks dramatic in the computer model, but in fact, Putman said, the difference in color represents just a few percentage points of change.

"The variation is something like 5 to 6 parts per million, a very small percentage of the total concentration," he said. "And it doesn't counter the amount of C02 that gets put back in the atmosphere in the fall and winter."

The video spans January to December of 2006. Putman said that Nature Run's simulations do not re-create the actual weather conditions that occurred but that statistically they are very close.

"We see similar intensities in storms, for example," he said.  

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