Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuel Combustion

This video shows the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas (fossil fuels) over a two-year time period (2011-2012). The video begins with a map of the world with no fossil fuel CO2. As time progresses the viewer watches the global accumulation of CO2 emissions from all fossil fuel sources. Large emitters such as Eastern Asia, Western Europe, and the North East of North America stand out. By the end of 2012, the entire Northern Hemisphere is red, illustrating a total accumulation of about 9 to 10 ppm of CO2.

The amount of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning comes from the Open-source Data Inventory for Anthropogenic CO2 (ODIAC) and is based on economic data. Most of the emissions are in the Northern Hemisphere.

A computer model of the atmosphere called TM5 ( was used to simulate the movement of atmospheric CO2 globally, using winds and atmospheric mixing as derived from global weather forecasts. One can see the movement of CO2 throughout the atmosphere as wind patterns transport and disperse emissions from their sources. Easterlies transport CO2 along the tropics while wind patterns in the high latitudes promote rapid atmospheric mixing throughout the Northern Hemisphere.   Because the exchange of air between the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere is much slower, it is not until the end of 2011 that CO2 emissions first visually mix into the Southern Hemisphere and begin to influence the atmospheric conditions of the entire globe.

Based on estimates of fossil fuel emissions for 2011 and 2012 by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), total global emissions increased from 9.4 billion metric tons of carbon in 2011 to 9.6 billion metric tons in 2012. These emissions produced a global accumulation of 9 ppm of CO2 in the two years, which would be equal to a 2.3% increase of atmospheric CO2 (relative to a global annual average of 390.5 ppm for 2011) from fossil fuel emissions every 2 years. Over a 10-year time period these emissions equate to 45 ppm of CO2 or an increase of 11.5%. If this amount could somehow be confined completely to a global layer of pure CO2 at the surface, it would be 36 cm, or 14” thick everywhere.

This video portrays purely how fossil fuel generated CO2 is transported through the atmosphere, and does not account for the redistribution of CO2 into the terrestrial biosphere and oceans. The actual observed atmospheric CO2 increase is about half that shown, or about 5% per decade because approximately half of the emissions do not remain in the atmosphere, but are absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial plants.

For additional information, check out NOAA Carbontracker. CarbonTracker is a CO2 measurement and modeling system developed by NOAA to keep track of sources (emissions to the atmosphere) and sinks (removal from the atmosphere) of carbon dioxide around the world. CarbonTracker uses atmospheric CO2 observations from a host of collaborators and simulated atmospheric transport to estimate these surface fluxes of CO2.