Climate Essentials

This Climate Essentials multimedia gallery brings together the latest and most popular climate-related images, data visualizations and video features from Goddard Space Flight Center. For more multimedia resources on climate and other topics, search the Scientific Visualization Studio. To learn more about NASA's contribution to understanding Earth's climate, visit the Global Climate Change site.

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Visualizations

  • 20 years of AIRS Global Carbon Dioxide measurements (2002-2022)
    2022.05.28
    This data visualization shows the global distribution and variation of the concentration of mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide observed by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on the NASA Aqua spacecraft over a 20 year timespan. One obvious feature that we see in the data is a continual increase in carbon dioxide with time, as seen in the shift in the color of the map from light yellow towards red as time progresses. Another feature is the seasonal variation of carbon dioxide in the northern hemisphere, which is governed by the growth cycle of plants. This can be seen as a pulsing in the colors, with a shift towards lighter colors starting in April/May each year and a shift towards red as the end of each growing season passes into winter. The seasonal cycle is more pronounced in the northern hemisphere than the southern hemisphere, since the majority of the land mass is in the north. The visualization includes a data-driven spatial map of global carbon dioxide and a timeline on the bottom. The timeline showcases the monthly timestep and is paired with the adjusted carbon dioxide value. Areas where the air pressure is less than 750mB (areas of high-altitude) have been marked in the visualization as low data quality (striped) areas. This entry offers two versions of low data quality (stiped) areas. One version includes striped regions as they are calculated on data values and the second version features striped regions below 60 South.
    Data Sources:
    • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from the Sounder SIPS: AQUA AIRS IR-only Level 3 CLIMCAPS: Comprehensive Quality Control Gridded Monthly V2 (SNDRAQIL3CMCCP), which is a monthly product of global coverage and of spatial resolution 1x1 degrees. The visualizations included on this page, utilize the variable co2_vmr_uppertop from the CLIMCAPS product. Areas where the air pressure is less than 750mB (areas of high-altitude) and below 60 degrees South have been marked in the visualization as low data quality (striped areas). In addition, areas with data gaps and of high altitude less than 5% of the resolution of the product have been filled using the nearest neighbor algorithm. Citation: Chris Barnet (2019), Sounder SIPS: AQUA AIRS IR-only Level 3 CLIMCAPS: Comprehensive Quality Control Gridded Monthly V2, Greenbelt, MD, USA, Goddard Earth Sciences Data and Information Services Center (GES DISC), Accessed: [May 26, 2022], doi: 10.5067/ZPZ430KOPMIX
    • Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide by NOAA. The visualizations on this page feature de-seasonalized mean value measurements from the Mauna Loa CO2 monthly mean data for the period September 2002-March 2022, Accessed: [April 8, 2022]. Citation: Dr. Pieter Tans, NOAA/GML (gml.noaa.gov/ccgg/trends/) and Dr. Ralph Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (scrippsco2.ucsd.edu). Citation: Keeling, Ralph F; Keeling, Charles D. (2017). Atmospheric Monthly In Situ CO2 Data - Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii (Archive 2021-09-07). In Scripps CO2 Program Data. UC San Diego Library Digital Collections. https://doi.org/10.6075/J08W3BHW
    • Continental and country outlines from the Scientific Visualization Studio, NASA/GSFC.

    The rest of this webpage offers custom versions for web, HD and 4K display systems.
    climate.nasa.gov This section contains assets designed for climate.nasa.gov
    HD content Additional visualization content in HD resolution.
    4K content
    Science On a Sphere (SOS) content The following section contains assets designed for Science On a Sphere and related displays. SOS playlist file: playlist.sos SOS label file: labels.txt
  • Annual Arctic Sea Ice Minimum Area 1979-2022, With Graph
    2022.09.27
    Satellite-based passive microwave images of the sea ice have provided a reliable tool for continuously monitoring changes in the Arctic ice since 1979. Every summer the Arctic ice cap melts down to what scientists call its "minimum" before colder weather begins to cause ice cover to increase. This graph displays the area of the minimum sea ice coverage each year from 1979 through 2022. In 2022, the Arctic minimum sea ice covered an area of 4.16 million square kilometers (1.6 million square miles). This visualization shows the expanse of the annual minimum Arctic sea ice for each year from 1979 through 2022 as derived from passive microwave data.
  • Zonal Climate Anomalies
    2022.03.07
    The visualization presents monthly zonal temperature anomalies between the years 1880-2021. The visualization illustrates that the Arctic is warming much faster than other regions of the Earth. These temperatures are based on the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP v4), an estimate of global surface temperature change. The latitude zones are 90N-64N, 64N-44N, 44N-24N, 24N-EQU, EQU-24S, 24S-44S, 44S-64S, 64S-90S. Anomalies are defined relative to a base period of 1951-1980. The data file used to create this visualization can be accessed here. The Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS) is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York.
  • Increasingly Dangerous Climate for Agricultural Workers
    2022.03.09
    A warming climate will create challenges for agricultural workers as well as the crops which they grow. This visualization shows the increased number of days per year that are expected to have a NOAA Heat Index greater than 103 degrees Fahrenheit, a threshold that NOAA labels ‘dangerous’ given that people struggle to regulate their body temperatures at this level of heat and humidity. These results are from an ensemble of 22 global climate models from the Sixth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6) bias-adjusted by the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX GDDP). Two projections are visualized, one for a moderate emissions climate scenerio (SSP2-4.5) and one for a high emmissions climate scenerio (SSP5-8.5).
  • Global Temperature Anomalies from 1880 to 2021
    2022.01.13
    Earth’s global average surface temperature in 2021 tied with 2018 as the sixth warmest on record, according to independent analyses done by NASA and NOAA. Continuing the planet’s long-term warming trend, global temperatures in 2021 were 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0.85 degrees Celsius) above the average for NASA’s baseline period, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. Collectively, the past eight years are the top eight warmest years since modern record keeping began in 1880. This annual temperature data makes up the global temperature record – and it’s how scientists know that the planet is warming. GISS is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York. For more information about NASA’s Earth science missions, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/earth
  • Impact of Climate Change on Global Agricultural Yields
    2022.03.02
    Climate change will affect agricultural production worldwide. Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, if current climate change trends continue. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range. Maize is grown all over the world, and large quantities are produced in countries nearer the equator. North and Central America, West Africa, Central Asia, Brazil and China will potentially see their maize yields decline in the coming years and beyond as average temperatures rise across these breadbasket regions, putting more stress on the plants. Wheat, which grows best in temperate climates, may see a broader area where it can be grown in places such as the northern United States and Canada, North China Plains, Central Asia, southern Australia and East Africa as temperatures rise, but these gains may level off mid-century. Temperature alone is not the only factor the models consider when simulating future crop yields. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have a positive effect on photosynthesis and water retention, more so for wheat than maize, which are accounted for better in the new generation of models. Rising global temperatures are linked with changes in rainfall patterns and the frequency and duration of heat waves and droughts. They also affect the length of growing seasons and accelerate crop maturity. To arrive at their projections, the research team used two sets of models. First, they used climate model simulations from the international Climate Model Intercomparison Project-Phase 6 (CMIP6). Each of the five climate models runs its own unique response of Earth’s atmosphere to greenhouse gas emission scenarios through 2100. Then the research team used the climate model simulations as inputs for 12 state-of-the-art global crop models that are part of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison Project (AgMIP), creating in total about 240 global climate-crop model simulations for each crop. By using multiple climate and crop models in various combinations, the researchers were able to be more confident in their results.
  • Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentrations
    2022.01.12
    Using the complete record of Mauna Loa CO2 monthly mean data, the timeplot featured on this page displays the ongoing Keeling’s research and observations: the monthly average of atmospheric CO2 concentration values, which show the seasonal cycle of CO2 (jagged/wavy red line) and the seasonally-adjusted mean values (adjusted/straight red line). The jagged/wavy red line visualizes natural oscillations caused by plant growth cycles, while the adjusted/straight red line demonstrates the steady increase over time that is caused by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels. To illustrate the significance of the steady increase of atmospheric CO2 since 1958 and to provide a visual understanding of the monthly average CO2 values as they are measured in parts per million (ppm):
    • Monthly adjusted CO2 values are plotted on the range of [0-500] ppm over the period of March 1958 to December 2021 (present).
    • The pre-industrial CO22 average of 278 ppm is marked as an orange block.
    • As time passes the monthly adjusted percent increase is calculated relative to the pre-industrial CO2 value of 278ppm and is shown next to a red arrow.
    As the timeline unfolds, we can see an increase growing from 13% in March 1958 to more than 50% in December 2021. In addition to highlighting the steady increase of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere, this timeplot underpins the historical contributions of the Keeling Curve to climate science, as it was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society in 2015. Continuous and precise observations across agencies and institutions are critical to help scientists and the public understand the linkages between increases in CO2 and human-caused climate change.
    Data Sources:
    • Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide by NOAA. The visualization featured on this page utilizes the complete record from the Mauna Loa CO2 monthly mean data for the period March 1958-December 2021 (accessed: January 7, 2022). Within the data record the continuous monthly average values are represented in the visualization as the jagged/wavy line that shows the seasonal cycle of CO2 and the monthly de-seasonalized mean values are represented in the visualization as the adjusted line. Citation: Dr. Pieter Tans, NOAA/GML (gml.noaa.gov/ccgg/trends/) and Dr. Ralph Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (scrippsco2.ucsd.edu/). Citation: Keeling, Ralph F; Keeling, Charles D. (2017). Atmospheric Monthly In Situ CO2 Data - Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii (Archive 2021-09-07). In Scripps CO2 Program Data. UC San Diego Library Digital Collections. https://doi.org/10.6075/J08W3BHW
  • Climate Drivers
    2021.06.30
    Climate models simulate interactions of critical climate processes and drivers of change and aim to increase our understanding of Earth’s climate system. Measurements clearly demonstrate the changes to the Earth’s climate over the twentieth century up to the present day, and climate models are used to inform us about possible changes in the future climate. In the published articles titled GISS-E2.1: Configurations and climatology and CMIP6 historical simulations (1850–2014) with GISS-E2.1, the NASA GISS research team describe the computer climate model GISS-E.2.1 including its development over the last few years, summarize its main features, and compare it with previous versions and the observations. Notably, they describe how well the trends in multiple features of the climate are captured in the historical simulations from 1850 to 2014. The data visualizations featured on this page present a high-level summary of the contributions of the NASA GISS-E2.1-G model to the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (Phase 6) (CMIP6), while showcasing the human and natural drivers of climate change, which were part of the Detection and Attribution Model Intercomparison Project (DAMIP), a sub-project of CMIP6. The visualization includes spatial maps paired with multiplots. Assuming a grid-like structure, the visualization comprises two major parts: Left: On the left we can see four separate maps in Wagner projection showing four distinct simulated datasets, displaying as anomalies. The anomalies are calculated using a baseline of 1951-1980. Top to bottom the datasets are: Mid-Stratosphere Temperature, Lower Stratosphere Temperature, Surface Temperature and Ocean Heat Content. The datasets present historical simulations with both natural and anthropogenic drivers for the period 1850-2014 and are paired with corresponding colormaps. Middle and Right: In the middle, synchronized multiplots for the same period track and visualize distinct drivers: natural (green), human (red), human and natural (blue), for each dataset. On the right, the Arctic Ice Area anomaly multiplot is followed by the visualization legends. As the timeline unfolds, we can see observations (in black for light background / in white for black background) starting to appear. These observations are used to evaluate the NASA GISS-E2.1-G model and while simulated data end in 2014, observations are plotted through 2018 (with the exception of Ocean Heat Content which is plotted through 2015). The historical timeline and the visualized maps show trends of stratospheric cooling, surface warming and significantly increased Arctic Ice Area loss, all of which are consistent with human forcing, especially rising greenhouse gas concentrations and ozone depletion. Therefore, it becomes apparent that the influence of human drivers is predominant in the climate system trends over the twentieth century and up to the present day. The NASA GISS-E2.1 contributions to CMIP6 and its evaluation with observations offer new knowledge and serve our society by improving our understanding of the processes that govern climate change and climate interactions with natural and human activities for the past and the future.
    Data Sources:
  • Shifting Distribution of Land Temperature Anomalies, 1951-2020
    2021.04.23
    This visualization shows how the distribution of land temperature anomalies has varied over time. As the planet has warmed, we see the peak of the distribution shifting to the right. The distribution of temperatures broadens as well. This broadening is most likely due to differential regional warming rather than increased temperature variability at any given location. These distributions are calculated from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies GISTEMP surface temperature analysis. Distributions are determined for each year using a kernal density esitmator, and we morph between those distributions in the animation. NASA’s full surface temperature data set – and the complete methodology used to make the temperature calculation – are available at: https://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp GISS is a NASA laboratory managed by the Earth Sciences Division of the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The laboratory is affiliated with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and School of Engineering and Applied Science in New York. The python based Jupyter Notebook used to create these visualizations is available. Click here to download.
  • Arctic Sea Ice Minimum 2021
    2021.09.22
    Satellite-based passive microwave images of the sea ice have provided a reliable tool for continuously monitoring changes in the Arctic ice since 1979. Every summer the Arctic ice cap melts down to what scientists call its "minimum" before colder weather begins to cause ice cover to increase. An analysis of satellite data by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder shows that the 2021 minimum extent, which was likely reached on Sept. 16, measured 1.82 million square miles (4.72 million square kilometers). The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) provides many water-related products derived from data acquired by the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer 2 (AMSR2) instrument aboard the Global Change Observation Mission 1st-Water "SHIZUKU" (GCOM-W1) satellite. Two JAXA datasets used in this animation are the 10-km daily sea ice concentration and the 10 km daily 89 GHz Brightness Temperature. In this animation, the daily Arctic sea ice and seasonal land cover change progress through time, from the yearly maximum ice extent on March 21 2021, through its minimum on September 16 2021. Over the water, Arctic sea ice changes from day to day showing a running 3-day minimum sea ice concentration in the region where the concentration is greater than 15%. The blueish white color of the sea ice is derived from a 3-day running minimum of the AMSR2 89 GHz brightness temperature. The yellow boundary shows the minimum extent averaged over the 30-year period from 1981 to 2010. Over the terrain, monthly data from the seasonal Blue Marble Next Generation fades slowly from month to month. The faint circle that appears periodically close to the pole is an artifact of the visualization process, and does not represent a real feature.
  • Annual Arctic Sea Ice Minimum 1979-2020 with Area Graph
    2020.10.16
    Satellite-based passive microwave images of the sea ice have provided a reliable tool for continuously monitoring changes in the Arctic ice since 1979. Every summer the Arctic ice cap melts down to what scientists call its "minimum" before colder weather begins to cause ice cover to increase. This graph displays the area of the minimum sea ice coverage each year from 1979 through 2020. In 2020, the Arctic minimum sea ice covered an area of 3.36 million square kilometers. This visualization shows the expanse of the annual minimum Arctic sea ice for each year from 1979 through 2020 as derived from passive microwave data. A graph overlay shows the area in million square kilometers for each year's minimum day.
  • Greenland Ice Mass Loss 2002-2021
    2021.03.20
    The mass of the Greenland ice sheet has rapidly declined in the last several years due to surface melting and iceberg calving. Research based on observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites (2002-2017) and GRACE Follow-On (since 2018 - ) indicates that between 2002 and 2020, Greenland shed approximately 280 gigatons of ice per year, causing global sea level to rise by 0.03 inches (0.8 millimeters) per year. These images, created from GRACE and GRACE-FO data, show changes in Greenland ice mass since 2002. Orange and red shades indicate areas that lost ice mass, while light blue shades indicate areas that gained ice mass. White indicates areas where there has been very little or no change in ice mass since 2002. In general, higher-elevation areas near the center of Greenland experienced little to no change, while lower-elevation and coastal areas experienced over 16.4 feet (5 meters) of ice mass loss (expressed in equivalent-water-height; dark red) over this 19-year period. The largest mass decreases occurred along the West Greenland coast. The average flow lines (grey; created from satellite radar interferometry) of Greenland’s ice converge into the locations of prominent outlet glaciers, and coincide with areas of highest mass loss. This supports other observations that warming ocean waters around Greenland play a key role in contemporary ice mass loss.
  • Antarctic Ice Mass Loss 2002-2020
    2021.03.21
    The mass of the Antarctic ice sheet has changed over the last decades. Research based on observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites (2002-2017) and GRACE Follow-On (since 2018 - ) indicates that between 2002 and 2020, Antarctica shed approximately 150 gigatons of ice per year, causing global sea level to rise by 0.4 millimeters per year. These images, created from GRACE and GRACE-FO data, show changes in Antarctic ice mass since 2002. Orange and red shades indicate areas that lost ice mass, while light blue shades indicate areas that gained ice mass. White indicates areas where there has been very little or no change in ice mass since 2002. Areas in East Antarctica experienced modest amounts of mass gain due to increased snow accumulation. However, this gain is more than offset by significant ice mass loss on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (dark red) over the 19-year period. Floating ice shelves whose mass change GRACE & GRACE-FO do not measure are colored gray. The average flow lines (grey; created from satellite radar interferometry) of Antarctica’s ice converge into the locations of prominent outlet glaciers, and coincide with areas of highest mass loss (i.e., Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West-Antarctica). This supports other observations that warming ocean waters around Antarctica play a key role in contemporary ice mass loss.
  • GRACE and GRACE-FO polar ice mass loss
    2021.10.11
    The mass of the Polar ice sheets have changed over the last decades. Research based on observations from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites (2002-2017) and GRACE Follow-On (since 2018 - ) indicates that between 2002 and 2020, Antarctica shed approximately 150 gigatons of ice per year, causing global sea level to rise by 0.4 millimeters per year; and Greenland shed approximately 280 gigatons of ice per year, causing global sea level to rise by 0.03 inches (0.8 millimeters) per year. These images, created from GRACE and GRACE-FO data, show changes in polar land ice mass since 2002. Orange and red shades indicate areas that lost ice mass, while light blue shades indicate areas that gained ice mass. White indicates areas where there has been very little or no change in ice mass since 2002. The average flow lines (grey; created from satellite radar interferometry) of the icesheets converge into the locations of prominent outlet glaciers, and coincide with areas of highest mass loss. This supports other observations that warming ocean waters near polar icesheets play a key role in contemporary ice mass loss.
  • Global Carbon Dioxide 2020-2021
    2021.11.02
    NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory, 2 (OCO-2) provides the most complete dataset tracking the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the main driver of climate change. Every day, OCO-2 measures sunlight reflected from Earth’s surface to infer the dry-air column-averaged CO2 mixing ratio and provides around 100,000 cloud-free observations. Despite these advances, OCO-2 data contain many gaps where sunlight is not present or where clouds or aerosols are too thick to retrieve CO2 data. In order to fill gaps and provide science and applications users a spatially complete product, OCO-2 data are assimilated into NASA’s Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS), a complex modeling and data assimilation system used for studying the Earth’s weather and climate. GEOS is also informed by satellite observations of nighttime lights and vegetation greenness along with about 1 million weather observations collected every hour. These data help scientists infer CO2 mixing ratios even when a direct OCO-2 observation is not present and provide additional information on the altitude of CO2 plumes that the satellite is not able to see. Together, OCO-2 and GEOS create one of the most complete pictures of CO2. The visualization featured on this page shows the atmosphere in three dimensions and highlights the accumulation of CO2 during a single calendar year. Every year, the world’s vegetation and oceans absorb about half of human CO2 emissions, providing an incredibly valuable service that has mitigated the rate of accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, around 2.5 parts per million remain in the atmosphere every year causing a steady upward march in concentrations that scientists have tracked since the 1950s at surface stations. The volumetric visualization starts in June 2020, showing all of the model’s values of global CO2. All 3d cells of the model are opaque, revealing a solid brick of data. During the month of June 2020, the higher values of CO2 coalesce around the equatorial belt. By mid-July 2020 the visualization reduces the opacity of lower CO2 values between 385 parts-per-millon (ppm) and 405 ppm in the atmosphere making them transparent. These lower values tend to be higher up in the atmosphere. By doing this, the higher CO2 concentrations, which are closer to the ground, are highlighted revealing the seasonal movement of high CO2 at a global scale. During the months of June-September (summer months for northern hemisphere), global CO2 concentrations tend to be lowest because northern hemisphere plants actively absorb CO2 from the atmosphere via photosynthesis. During northern hemisphere fall and winter months, much of this CO2 is re-released to the atmosphere due to respiration and can be seen building up. By June and July 2021, plants again draw CO2 out of the atmosphere, but notably higher concentrations remain in contrast to the nearly transparent colors of the previous year. The diurnal rhythm of CO2 is apparent over our planet's largest forests, such as the Amazon rainforest in South America and the Congo rainforest in Central Africa. The fast-paced pulse in those rainforests is due to the day-night cycle; plants absorb CO2 during the day via photosynthesis when the sun is out, then stop absorbing CO2 at night. In addition to highlighting the buildup of atmospheric CO2, this visualization shows how interconnected the world’s greenhouse gas problem is. NASA’s unique combination of observations and models plays a critical role in helping scientists track increases in CO2 as they happen to better understand their climate impact.
    This visualization was created specifically to support a series of talks from NASA scientists for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), Glasgow, UK, 31 October-12 November 2021.
    Data Sources:
    • Volumetric Carbon Dioxide extracted from NASA's Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) model, which is produced by the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office. The visualization featured on this page utilizes 3-hourly data for the period June 1, 2020-July 31, 2021.
    • Blue Marble: Next Generation was produced by Reto Stöckli, NASA Earth Observatory (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Citation: Reto Stöckli, Eric Vermote, Nazmi Saleous, Robert Simmon and David Herring. The Blue Marble Next Generation – A true color earth dataset including seasonal dynamics from MODIS, October 17, 2005. The visualization on this page utilizes monthly Blue Marble data to map the water and land bodies around the globe and show seasonal changes.
    • Sea ice for the Arctic and Antarctic regions, provided by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), by utilizing GCOMP-W/AMSR2 10 km Level 3 daily Sea Ice Concentration (SIC) and GCOMP-W/AMSR2 10 km Level 3 daily 89 GHz Brightness Temperature (BT) data for the period June 1, 2020-July 31, 2021.
    • Global 30 Arc-Second Elevation (GTOPO 30) from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). GTOPO30 is a global raster digital elevation model (DEM) with a horizontal grid spacing of 30 arc seconds (approximately 1 kilometer). GTOPO30 was derived from several raster and vector sources of topographic information. The data-driven visualization featured on this page utilizes the GTOPO30 model to represent the three-dimensional features of over land terrain and submarine topography world-wide. doi: 10.5066/F7DF6PQS.
  • Sources of Methane
    2020.07.09
    Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that traps heat 28 times more effectively than carbon dioxide over a 100-year timescale. Concentrations of methane have increased by more than 150% since industrial activities and intensive agriculture began. After carbon dioxide, methane is responsible for about 23% of climate change in the twentieth century. Methane is produced under conditions where little to no oxygen is available. About 30% of methane emissions are produced by wetlands, including ponds, lakes and rivers. Another 20% is produced by agriculture, due to a combination of livestock, waste management and rice cultivation. Activities related to oil, gas, and coal extraction release an additional 30%. The remainder of methane emissions come from minor sources such as wildfire, biomass burning, permafrost, termites, dams, and the ocean. Scientists around the world are working to better understand the budget of methane with the ultimate goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving prediction of environmental change. For additional information, see the Global Methane Budget. The NASA SVS visualization presented here shows the complex patterns of methane emissions produced around the globe and throughout the year from the different sources described above. The visualization was created using output from the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office, GMAO, GEOS modeling system, developed and maintained by scientists at NASA. Wetland emissions were estimated by the LPJ-wsl model, which simulates the temperature and moisture dependent methane emission processes using a variety of satellite data to determine what parts of the globe are covered by wetlands. Other methane emission sources come from inventories of human activity. The height of Earth’s atmosphere and topography have been vertically exaggerated and appear approximately 50-times higher than normal in order to show the complexity of the atmospheric flow. As the visualization progresses, outflow from different source regions is highlighted. For example, high methane concentrations over South America are driven by wetland emissions while over Asia, emissions reflect a mix of agricultural and industrial activities. Emissions are transported through the atmosphere as weather systems move and mix methane around the globe. In the atmosphere, methane is eventually removed by reactive gases that convert it to carbon dioxide. Understanding the three-dimensional distribution of methane is important for NASA scientists planning observations that sample the atmosphere in very different ways. Satellites like GeoCarb, a planned geostationary mission to observe both carbon dioxide and methane, look down from space and will estimate the total number of methane molecules in a column of air. Aircraft, like those launched during NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABOVE) sample the atmosphere along very specific flight lines, providing additional details about the processes controlling methane emissions at high latitudes. Atmospheric models help place these different types of measurements in context so that scientists can refine estimates of sources and sinks, understand the processes controlling them and reduce uncertainty in future projections of carbon-climate feedbacks.
  • 2021 Hurricane Season through September
    2021.10.30
    This visualization shows the hurricanes and tropical storms of 2021 as seen by NASA’s Integrated Multi-satellitE Retrievals for GPM (IMERG) - a data product combining precipitation observations from infrared and microwave satellite sensors united by the GPM Core Observatory. IMERG provides near real-time half-hourly precipitation estimates at ~10km resolution for the entire globe, helping researchers better understand Earth’s water cycle and extreme weather events, with applications for disaster management, tracking disease, resource management, energy production and food security. IMERG rain rates (in mm/hr) are laid under infrared cloud data from the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC) Cloud Composite dataset together with storm tracks from the NOAA National Hurricane Center (NHC) Automated Tropical Cyclone Forecasting (ATCF) model. Sea surface temperatures (SST) are also shown over the oceans, derived from the NASA Multi-sensor Ultra-high Resolution (MUR) dataset, which combines data from multiple geostationary and orbiting satellites. Sea surface temperatures play an important role in hurricane formation and development, with warmer temperatures linked to more intense storms. This data visualization was done for the United Nations Climate Change Conference - Conference of the Parties (COP) 26. The 2021 hurricane season officially ends November 30th. This data visualization will be periodically updated until that date.
  • Active Fires As Observed by VIIRS, January-September 2021
    2021.10.01
    This visualization shows active fires as observed by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, between January 1 and September 24 2021. The VIIRS instrument flies on the Joint Polar Satellite System’s Suomi-NPP and NOAA-20 polar-orbiting satellites. Instruments on polar orbiting satellites typically observe a wildfire at a given location a few times a day as they orbit the Earth from pole to pole. VIIRS detects hot spots at a resolution of 375 meters per pixel, which means it can detect smaller, lower temperature fires than other fire-observing satellites. Its observations are about three times more detailed than those from the MODIS instrument, for example. VIIRS also provides nighttime fire detection capabilities through its Day-Night Band, which can measure low-intensity visible light emitted by small and fledgling fires. This visualization uses data from the Suomi-NPP VIIRS instrument, and will be updated periodically until the end of 2021.
  • Impact of Climate Change on Global Wheat Yields
    2021.09.01
    Climate change will affect agricultural production worldwide. Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, if current climate change trends continue. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range. Wheat, which grows best in temperate climates, may see a broader area where it can be grown in places such as the northern United States and Canada, North China Plains, Central Asia, southern Australia and East Africa as temperatures rise, but these gains may level off mid-century. Temperature alone is not the only factor the models consider when simulating future crop yields. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have a positive effect on photosynthesis and water retention, more so for wheat than maize, which are accounted for better in the new generation of models. Rising global temperatures are linked with changes in rainfall patterns and the frequency and duration of heat waves and droughts. They also affect the length of growing seasons and accelerate crop maturity. To arrive at their projections, the research team used two sets of models. First, they used climate model simulations from the international Climate Model Intercomparison Project-Phase 6 (CMIP6). Each of the five climate models runs its own unique response of Earth’s atmosphere to greenhouse gas emission scenarios through 2100. Then the research team used the climate model simulations as inputs for 12 state-of-the-art global crop models that are part of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison Project (AgMIP), creating in total about 240 global climate-crop model simulations for each crop. By using multiple climate and crop models in various combinations, the researchers were able to be more confident in their results.
    Science on a Sphere Content The following section contains assets designed for Science on a Sphere and related displays. SOS playlist file: playlist.sos SOS label file: labels.txt
  • Impact of Climate Change on Global Maize Yields
    2021.08.23
    Climate change will affect agricultural production worldwide. Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, if current climate change trends continue. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range. Maize is grown all over the world, and large quantities are produced in countries nearer the equator. North and Central America, West Africa, Central Asia, Brazil and China will potentially see their maize yields decline in the coming years and beyond as average temperatures rise across these breadbasket regions, putting more stress on the plants. Temperature alone is not the only factor the models consider when simulating future crop yields. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have a positive effect on photosynthesis and water retention, more so for wheat than maize, which are accounted for better in the new generation of models. Rising global temperatures are linked with changes in rainfall patterns and the frequency and duration of heat waves and droughts. They also affect the length of growing seasons and accelerate crop maturity. To arrive at their projections, the research team used two sets of models. First, they used climate model simulations from the international Climate Model Intercomparison Project-Phase 6 (CMIP6). Each of the five climate models runs its own unique response of Earth’s atmosphere to greenhouse gas emission scenarios through 2100. Then the research team used the climate model simulations as inputs for 12 state-of-the-art global crop models that are part of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison Project (AgMIP), creating in total about 240 global climate-crop model simulations for each crop. By using multiple climate and crop models in various combinations, the researchers were able to be more confident in their results.
    Science On a Sphere Content The following section contains assets designed for Science On a Sphere and related displays. SOS playlist file: playlist.sos SOS label file: labels.txt
  • Placing the Recent Hiatus Period in an Energy Balance Perspective
    2020.02.24
    GLOBAL OBSERVATIONS OF EARTH’S ENERGY BALANCE With the launch of NASA’s Terra Satellite Earth Observing System on Dec. 18, 1999, and subsequent ‘first light’ of the Cloud’s and the Earth’s Energy Radiant System (CERES) instrument on February 26, 2000, NASA gave birth to what ultimately would become the first long-term global observational record of Earth’s energy balance. This key indicator of the climate system describes the delicate and complex balance between how much of the sun’s energy reaching Earth is absorbed and how much thermal infrared radiation is emitted back to space. “Absorbed solar radiation fuels the climate system and life on our planet,” said Norman Loeb, CERES Principal Investigator. “The Earth sheds heat by emitting outgoing radiation.” For Earth’s temperature to be stable over long periods of time, absorbed solar and emitted thermal radiation must be equal. Increases in greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, trap emitted thermal radiation from the surface and reduce how much is lost to space, resulting in a net surplus of energy into the Earth system. Most of the extra energy ends up being stored as heat in the ocean and the remainder warms the atmosphere and land, and melts snow and ice. As a consequence, global mean surface temperature increases and sea levels rise. Much like a pulse or heartbeat, CERES monitors reflected solar and emitted thermal infrared radiation, which together with solar irradiance measurements is one of Earth’s ‘vital signs’. Better understanding Earth’s energy balance enables us to be informed and adapt to a changing world. Though CERES on Terra marked the first global measurements of Earth’s energy balance, the CERES Pathfinder Mission on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) began measuring the Earth’s radiant energy system in 1997. CERES is a key component of NASA’s Earth Observing System, with six active CERES instruments on satellites orbiting Earth and taking data. A GLOBAL WARMING ‘HIATUS’ A global warming hiatus is a period of relatively modest rise in global average surface temperature. During a hiatus, the jagged edges of surface temperature plots appear to level out or display less of an incline in a normally rising trend. This pause is not a part of the long-term trend of consistently increasing warmth. Climate models show that hiatuses are fairly common and can easily last 10 or more years. The most recent hiatus occurred during the first part of the 21st century and ended just prior to the 2015/2016 El Niño, when the global mean surface temperature showed a major increase. Launched during the early part of the hiatus period, the Terra mission has provided scientists with unprecedented observations of the hiatus, the 2015/2016 El Niño, and the current warming period. In contrast to global mean surface temperature, when we look at the Earth’s energy balance from CERES, we still see a continual steady rise in heat uptake, even during the hiatus. “The change in planetary heat uptake provides a better indication of how Earth’s climate is changing than surface temperature,” said Loeb. The ‘hiatus’ was a surface temperature phenomenon. FLUCTUATIONS EXPLAINED Over short time intervals, surface temperatures can be quite erratic. Natural fluctuations in atmospheric wind patterns and ocean currents result in vertical mixing in the oceans that can temporarily warm or cool the ocean surface and air immediately above the surface. During La Niña events, stronger easterly winds blowing across the tropical Pacific enhance vertical mixing in the ocean, bringing cooler water to the surface, a slowdown in surface warming, and an increase in ocean heat uptake at depths below 100 dbar (approximately 100 m). During El Niño conditions, easterly winds weaken, causing less vertical mixing in the ocean and warmer surface temperatures. The recent hiatus period was characterized predominantly by La Niña conditions, explaining the weaker rise in global mean surface temperature. Following the hiatus, El Niño conditions prevailed with substantial surface warming. Hiatus periods notwithstanding, the extra heat that is being added to the Earth system is driving the observed long-term increase in global mean surface temperature. Because the oceans take a long time to warm up, the oceans introduce a delay or lag in the warming, but the warming is eventually realized. This delay is sometimes referred to by scientists as the ‘warming commitment’ or ‘warming in the pipeline.’ Scientists are constantly looking for ways to better monitor changes in Earth’s Energy Balance. Loeb is working with colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to combine continued satellite observations with Argo, a global array of 3,800 free-drifting profiling floats that measure the temperature and salinity of the upper 2,000 meters of the ocean. The CERES satellite data provide vital measurements of the energy entering and leaving Earth while the Argo data indicate where energy is stored in the ocean, both geographically and vertically. We rely on climate models to make projections of future climate so that we can make informed decisions about societal adaptation in a rapidly changing world. Climate modelers in turn rely on having quality long-term global measurements available to test and refine their models. Continuing the CERES record, which has enabled global measurements of Earth’s Energy Balance, is certainly a part of the plan.
  • CERES Radiation Balance (Planetary Heat Uptake 2021 Update)
    2021.04.16
    The Clouds and the Earth’s Energy Radiant System (CERES) instrument is a key component of NASA’s Earth Observing System, with six active CERES instruments on satellites orbiting Earth and taking data.   For Earth’s temperature to be stable over long periods of time, absorbed solar and emitted thermal radiation must be equal. Increases in greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, trap emitted thermal radiation from the surface and reduce how much is lost to space, resulting in a net surplus of energy into the Earth system. Most of the extra energy ends up being stored as heat in the ocean and the remainder warms the atmosphere and land, and melts snow and ice. As a consequence, global mean surface temperature increases and sea levels rise. Much like a pulse or heartbeat, CERES monitors reflected solar and emitted thermal infrared radiation, which together with solar irradiance measurements is one of Earth’s ‘vital signs.’ Better understanding Earth’s energy balance enables us to be informed and adapt to a changing world.
  • Atmospheric CO₂ Trends
    2014.12.10
    Fossil fuel combustion and other human activities are now increasing the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) abundance to unprecedented rates. It is estimated that approximately 36 billion tons of CO2 are added to the atmosphere each year. The large graph shown here is an animated version of the standard Keeling curve from 1980 to September 2014. The red line denotes ground-based measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, while yellow denotes observations from the South Pole Observatory. Purple denotes the global trend. The smaller graph in the upper left shows satellite measurements of tropospheric CO2 concentrations (white dots) at different latitudes from September 2002 to September 2014, obtained by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) and Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU) instruments. Note how the Northern Hemisphere has greater variably and generally higher levels of CO2 than the Southern Hemisphere.

    In May of 2013, these emissions pushed the monthly average CO2 concentrations above 400 parts per million (ppm)—a level that has not been reached during the past 800,000 years. These ever-increasing levels are raising concerns about greenhouse-gas-induced climate change.

  • Greenland View of Three Simulated Greenland Ice Sheet Response Scenarios: 2008 - 2300
    2019.06.19
    The Greenland Ice Sheet holds enough water to raise the world’s sea level by over 7 meters (23 feet). Rising atmosphere and ocean temperatures have led to an ice loss equivalent to over a centimeter increase in global mean sea-level between 1991 and 2015. Large outlet glaciers, rivers of ice moving to the sea, drain the ice from the interior of Greenland and cause the outer margins of the ice sheet to recede. Improvements in measuring the ice thickness in ice sheets is enabling better simulation of the flow in outlet glaciers, which is key to predicting the retreat of ice sheets into the future. Recently, a simulation of the effects of outlet glacier flow on ice sheet thickness coupled with improved data and comprehensive climate modeling for differing future climate scenarios has been used to estimate Greenland’s contribution to sea-level over the next millennium. Greenland could contribute 5–34 cm (2-13 inches) to sea-level by 2100 and 11–162 cm (4-64 inches) by 2200, with outlet glaciers contributing 19–40 % of the total mass loss. The analysis shows that uncertainties in projecting mass loss are dominated by uncertainties in climate scenarios and surface processes, followed by ice dynamics. Uncertainties in ocean conditions play a minor role, particularly in the long term. Greenland will very likely become ice-free within a millennium without significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Three visualizations of the evolution of the Greenland Ice Sheet between 2008 and 2300 based on three different climate scenarios are shown below. Each scenario is described briefly in the caption under each visualization. Each of the three visualizations are provided with a date and colorbar as well as without. The regions shown in a violet color are exposed areas of the Greenland bed that were covered by the ice sheet in 2008. The data sets used for these animations are the control (“CTRL”) simulations and were produced with the open-source Parallel Ice Sheet Model (www.pism-docs.org). All data sets for this study are publicly available at https://arcticdata.io (doi:10.18739/A2Z60C21V).
  • First Global Survey of Glacial Lakes Shows 30-Years of Dramatic Growth
    2020.08.31
    Glaciers are retreating on a near-global scale due to rising temperatures and climate change. The melt and retreat of glaciers contributes to sea level rise and in the formation of glacial lakes typically right at the foot of the glaciers. In the largest-ever study of glacial lakes, NASA-funded researchers Dan Shugar et al. working under a grant from NASA’s High Mountain Asia Program found that glacial lake volume has increased by about 50% worldwide since 1990. The findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change with the title Rapid worldwide growth of glacial lakes since 1990 affect how researchers evaluate the amount of glacial meltwater reaching the oceans and contributing to sea level rise as well as evaluate hazard risks for mountain communities downstream. Glacial lakes, which are often dammed by ice or glacial sediment called a moraine, are not stable like the lakes most people are used to swimming or boating in. Rather, they can be quite unstable and can burst their banks or dams, causing massive floods downstream. These kinds of floods from glacial lakes, also known as glacial lake outburst floods or GLOFs, have been responsible for thousands of deaths over the last century, as well as the destruction of villages, infrastructure and livestock. The data visualization featured on this page showcases the glacier rich and wondrous landscape of High Mountain Asia and provides a glimpse into how glacial lakes have increased during the last thirty years, by demonstrating the growth of Imja Lake for the period 1989-2019. It is important to mention that while Imja Lake is just one of the 14,394 glacial lakes analyzed by the science team in the study for the period of 2015-2018, it serves as a vivid example due to its dramatic growth. The visualization sequence starts with a wide view of Asia and the Tibetan plateau and slowly zooms into the Himalayan region, which includes many of Earth’s highest peaks and is paired with the highest concentration of snow and glaciers outside of the polar regions. Soon after a block of the Eastern Himalayan region rises featuring realistically scaled terrain data from the High Mountain Asia 8-meter Digital Elevation Model (DEM). The 8-meter DEM is draped over with Landsat 8 data from the same region. The sequence takes us on a hiking path from Mt. Everest (8,848 m / 29,029 ft), Mt. Lhotse (8,516 m / 27,940 ft) and Mt. Nuptse (7,861 m / 25,791 ft), to the Everest Base Camp, the Khumbu Glacier all the way to Imja Lake. Moving to a top-down view, a time series of geo-registered Landsat data unveils the growth of Imja Lake from 1989 to 2019. Outlines of the Imja Lake extents highlight the growth during the 30 years occurring from meltwater from the adjacent glaciers. Until now climate models that translated glacier melt into sea level change assumed that water from glacier melt is instantaneously transported to the oceans, which presented an incomplete picture. Therefore, understanding how much of glacial meltwater is stored in lakes or groundwater underscores the importance of studying and monitoring glacial lakes worldwide.
    Data Sources:
    • High Mountain Asia 8-meter Digital Elevation Model (DEM) derived from Optical Imagery, Version 1. The dataset is available from the NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center (NSIDC DAAC). The DEM is realistically scaled (Vertical exaggeration 1x) in this visualization. The DEM is generated from very-high-resolution imagery from DigitalGlobe satellites (GEOEYE-1, QUICKBIRD-2, WORLDVIEW-1, WORLDVIEW-2, WORLDVIEW-3) during the period of 28 January 2002 to 24 November 2016. Citation: Shean, D. 2017. High Mountain Asia 8-meter DEM Mosaics Derived from Optical Imagery, Version 1. [Subset Used: HMA_DEM8m_MOS_20170716_tile-677 | subregion with extents 27.7394° -28.1638° N, 86.6007°-87.2118° E ]. Boulder, Colorado USA. NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center. doi: https://doi.org/10.5067/KXOVQ9L172S2. [Date Accessed: 06/17/2020].
    • Landsat 5, Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 data comprise the time series of Imja Lake for the period 1989-2019. Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper (TM) Level-1 Data Products (doi: https://doi.org/10.5066/F7N015TQ) were used for the period 1989-1999. The Landsat 5 Product Identifiers are: LT05_L1TP_140041_19891109_20170201_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19900112_20170201_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19910131_20170128_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19921117_20170121_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19931120_20170116_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19941022_20170111_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19951009_20170106_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19961112_20170102_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19970216_20170101_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19981102_20161220_01_T1 LT05_L1TP_140041_19990427_20161219_01_T1 Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) Level-1 Data Products (doi: https://doi.org/10.5066/F7WH2P8G) were used for the period 2000-2012. The Landsat 7 Product Identifiers are: LE07_L1TP_140041_20001030_20170209_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20011017_20170202_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20021020_20170127_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20030124_20170126_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20041110_20170117_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20051113_20170112_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20060116_20170111_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20070103_20170105_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20081020_20161224_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20091023_20161217_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20101026_20161212_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20111013_20161206_01_T1 LE07_L1TP_140041_20121015_20161127_01_T1 Landsat 8 Operational Land Imagery (OLI) and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS) Level-1 Data Products (doi: https://doi.org/10.5066/F71835S6) were used for the period 2013-2019. The Landsat 8 Product Identifiers are: LC08_L1TP_140041_20131010_20170429_01_T1 LC08_L1TP_140041_20140927_20170419_01_T1 LC08_L1TP_140041_20150930_20170403_01_T1 LC08_L1TP_140041_20161018_20170319_01_T1 LC08_L1TP_140041_20171021_20171106_01_T1 LC08_L1TP_140041_20181024_20181031_01_T1 LC08_L1TP_140041_20191112_20191115_01_T1* *Draped over the High Mountain Asia 8-meter Digital Elevation Model (DEM) during the visualization. For the purposes of this data visualization the above Landsat data were processed and color-stretched. Bands 3-2-1 were used for Landsat 5 and 7 data. Bands 4-3-2 were used for Landsat 8 data. In addition, Landsat 7 and 8 data used pan-chromatic sharpening (Band 8). Landsat 5, Landsat 7 and Landsat 8 data courtesy of the U.S Geological Survey and NASA Landsat.
    • Blue Marble: Next Generation was produced by Reto Stöckli, NASA Earth Observatory (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center). Citation: Reto Stöckli, Eric Vermote, Nazmi Saleous, Robert Simmon and David Herring. The Blue Marble Next Generation – A true color earth dataset including seasonal dynamics from MODIS, October 17, 2005.
    • Global 30 Arc-Second Eleveation (GTOPO 30) from USGS. doi: https://doi.org/10.5066/F7DF6PQS
    • Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) 1 Arc-Second Global. doi: https://doi.org/10.5066/F7PR7TFT
    • Nepal city labels and locations were created using Natural Earth 1:10m Cultural Vectors (Populated places database) and OpenStreetMap data.

    The rest of this webpage offers additional versions and visual material associated with the development of this data-driven visualization.

Produced Pieces

  • 2021 Tied for the Sixth Warmest Year on Record, NASA Finds
    2022.01.13
    2021 was tied for the sixth warmest year on NASA’s record, stretching more than a century. But, what is a temperature record? GISTEMP, NASA’s global temperature analysis, takes in millions of observations from instruments on weather stations, ships and ocean buoys, and Antarctic research stations, to determine how much warmer or cooler Earth is on average from year to year. Stretching back to 1880, NASA’s record shows a clear warming trend. However, individual weather events and La Niña — a pattern of cooler waters in the Pacific that was responsible for slightly cooling 2021’s average temperature — can affect individual years. Because the record is global, not every place on Earth experienced the sixth warmest year on record. Some places had record-high temperatures, and we saw record droughts, floods and fires around the globe.
  • Climate Change Could Affect Global Agriculture within 10 Years
    2021.11.01
    Average global crop yields for maize, or corn, may see a decrease of 24% by late century, with the declines becoming apparent by 2030, with high greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new NASA study. Wheat, in contrast, may see an uptick in crop yields by about 17%. The change in yields is due to the projected increases in temperature, shifts in rainfall patterns and elevated surface carbon dioxide concentrations due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, making it more difficult to grow maize in the tropics and expanding wheat’s growing range.
  • Warmer Ocean Temperatures May Decrease Saharan Dust Crossing the Atlantic
    2021.04.19
    Every year millions of tons of dust from the Sahara Desert are swirled up into the atmosphere by easterly trade winds, and carried across the Atlantic. The plumes can make their way from the African continent as far as the Amazon rainforest, where they fertilize plant life. As the climate changes, dust activity will continue to be affected. In a new study, NASA researchers predict that within the next century we will see dust transport approach a 20,000-year minimum.
  • Tracking Three Decades of Dramatic Glacial Lake Growth
    2020.08.31
    In the largest-ever study of glacial lakes, researchers using a 30-year satellite data record have found that the volume of these lakes worldwide has increased by about 50% since 1990 as glaciers melt and retreat due to climate change. Glacial lakes are not stable because they are often dammed by ice or glacial sediment called a moraine, which is loose rock and debris that is pushed to the front and sides of glacier. Rather, they can burst their banks or dams, causing massive floods downstream. These kinds of floods from glacial lakes, also known as glacial lake outburst floods, have been responsible for thousands of deaths over the last century, as well as the destruction of villages, infrastructure and livestock. Until now climate models that translated glacier melt into sea level change assumed that water from glacier melt is instantaneously transported to the oceans, which presented an incomplete picture. Therefore, understanding how much of glacial meltwater is stored in lakes or groundwater underscores the importance of studying and monitoring glacial lakes worldwide.
  • Plants Are Struggling to Keep Up with Rising Carbon Dioxide Concentrations
    2020.12.10
    Plants play a key role in mitigating climate change. The more carbon dioxide they absorb during photosynthesis, the less carbon dioxide remains trapped in the atmosphere where it can cause temperatures to rise. But scientists have identified an unsettling trend – 86% of land ecosystems globally are becoming progressively less efficient at absorbing the increasing levels of CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • NASA Models Methane Sources and Movement Around the Globe
    2020.03.23
    NASA’s new 3-dimensional portrait of methane shows the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming as it travels through the atmosphere. Combining multiple data sets from emissions inventories and simulations of wetlands into a high-resolution computer model, researchers now have an additional tool for understanding this complex gas and its role in Earth’s carbon cycle, atmospheric composition, and climate system. The new data visualization builds a fuller picture of the diversity of methane sources on the ground as well as the behavior of the gas as it moves through the atmosphere.
  • NASA Finds 2020 Tied for Hottest Year on Record
    2021.01.14
    Globally, 2020 was the hottest year on record, effectively tying 2016, the previous record. Overall, Earth’s average temperature has risen more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1880s. Temperatures are increasing due to human activities, specifically emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane.
  • Modeling the Future of the Greenland Ice Sheet
    2019.06.19
    Scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute used data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge to develop a more accurate model of how the Greenland Ice Sheet might respond to climate change in the future, finding that it could generate more sea level rise than previously thought. In the next 50 years, the model shows that melting at the present rate could contribute one to four inches to global sea level rise. This number jumps to five to13 inches by 2100 and 19 to 63 inches by 2200. These numbers are considerably higher than previous estimates, which forecasted up to 35 inches of sea level rise by 2200 The updated model is the first to include outlet glaciers — river-like bodies of ice that connect to the ocean. Outlet glaciers play a key role in how ice sheets melt, but previous models lacked the data to adequately represent their complex flow patterns. The study found that melting outlet glaciers could account for up to 40% of the ice mass lost from Greenland in the next 200 years. By incorporating ice thickness data from IceBridge and identifying sources of statistical uncertainty within the model, the study creates a more accurate picture of how human-generated greenhouse gas emissions and a warming climate may affect Greenland in the future

Animations

  • Radiative Forcing
    2021.03.25
    A simplified animation of Earth's planetary energy balance: A planet’s energy budget is balanced between incoming (yellow) and outgoing radiation (red); On Earth, natural and human-caused processes affect the amount of energy received as well as emitted back to space; This study filters out variations in Earth’s energy budget due to feedback processes, revealing the energy changes caused by aerosols and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Greenhouse Gases Effect on Global Warming
    2007.09.07
    The 'greenhouse effect' is the warming of climate that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space. Certain gases in the atmosphere resemble glass in a greenhouse, allowing sunlight to pass into the 'greenhouse,' but blocking Earth's heat from escaping into space. The gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxides, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

    On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric CO2. This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon (C) with oxygen (O2) in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities have increased the concentrations of other greenhouse gases like methane (CH4), and further increased (CO2).

    The consequences of changing the natural atmospheric greenhouse are difficult to predict, but certain effects seem likely:

    - On average, Earth will become warmer. Some regions may welcome warmer temperatures, but others may not.

    - Warmer conditions will probably lead to more evaporation and precipitation overall, but individual regions will vary, some becoming wetter and others dryer.

    - A stronger greenhouse effect will probably warm the oceans and partially melt glaciers and other ice, increasing sea level. Ocean water also will expand if it warms, contributing to further sea level rise.

    - Meanwhile, some crops and other plants may respond favorably to increased atmospheric CO2, growing more vigorously and using water more efficiently. At the same time, higher temperatures and shifting climate patterns may change the areas where crops grow best and affect the makeup of natural plant communities.