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Watching Earth Breathe Carbon Dioxide


Written by charlie8180


The Seasonal Vegetation Cycle and Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

All the credits for this article and the animated map belong to NASA (2019)


In this captivating animation, NASA instruments provide a visual representation of the dynamic interplay between the seasonal cycle of vegetation and the concentration of #carbondioxide in the atmosphere.

The animation unfolds from January 1, capturing the winter in the northern hemisphere and the summer in the southern hemisphere. During this period, vibrant green hues indicate the predominant living vegetation, concentrated around the equator and in the southern hemisphere.

As the animation progresses into mid-April, a noticeable increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide, depicted in orange-yellow, permeates the middle layer of Earth's atmosphere, the troposphere. This surge expands across the northern hemisphere, peaking around May. 

The rise in carbon dioxide aligns with seasonal changes in northern latitude ecosystems, where deciduous trees shed their leaves, leading to a net release of carbon dioxide through respiration. Additionally, early spring contributes to this release as soils warm, allowing almost 10 percent of atmospheric carbon dioxide to pass through.

Beyond April, the northern hemisphere transitions into late spring and summer, witnessing the flourishing of plant life, which reaches its zenith in late summer. The animation vividly illustrates the process of plant photosynthesis actively removing carbon dioxide from the air. As new and expanding vegetation becomes more abundant, atmospheric carbon dioxide experiences a noticeable reduction, especially over the boreal forests.

Crucially, the animation emphasises a roughly three-month lag between the surface state of vegetation and its impact on carbon dioxide concentrations in the middle troposphere. This temporal discrepancy highlights the complex and interconnected nature of Earth's ecosystem processes.

Such data provide scientists with a valuable opportunity to enhance their understanding of the intricate relationships between carbon dioxide in the middle troposphere and the seasonal cycle of surface-level vegetation.

This knowledge contributes to a deeper comprehension of Earth's carbon dynamics and aids in ongoing efforts to monitor and address climate-related challenges.