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Image Narration | Global CO Concentration

Professor Steve Wofsy of Harvard University and Principal Investigator for the HIPPO project, compares two figures of global carbon monoxide concentration.

Here you see some colored figures that tell us about CO in the atmosphere, carbon monoxide. On the right-hand side you see a map in which the colors indicate the amount of CO that we think is being emitted into the atmosphere by various processes. You notice a big band of intense CO emissions in southern Africa, just south of the Sahara. That’s due to biomass burning, basically the burning of the Savannah's. You also notice the industrial regions of China, North America, and Europe are big sources.

If you look on the left-hand side you see how those emissions wind of influencing the atmospheric concentrations of CO. You see that the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere is really strongly affected by those CO emissions from industrial regions. Although, maybe somewhat unexpected is that those emissions are distributed throughout the atmosphere vertically. Then those emissions from southern Africa are showing up, but they are much more diluted. They’re near the equator but it’s a little hard to pick them out.

And then you get into the southern hemisphere which is really, really clean at this time of year. If you’re very discerning you may notice somewhat slightly elevated CO in the latitude of Australia, around 30 to 40 south. Well that’s because during the time of year that we were there, in January of 2009, there were some very intense fires in Australia. Those don’t occur every year and so they didn’t show up on that map on the right, but they were very significant events, actually a number of people were killed in those fires.

So here you see a global picture of the results of the emissions at the surface shown on the left-hand side, adding CO to the atmosphere in various places and where we think they are coming from on the right-hand side.

CO Concentration


HIPPO is a landmark study for many reasons, not the least of which is it is the first time scientists have systematically mapped global distribution of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, covering the full troposphere in all seasons and multiple years.

  • HIPPO I :: 8 January-30 January 2009
  • HIPPO II :: 31 October-22 November 2009
  • HIPPO III :: 24 March-16 April 2010
  • HIPPO IV :: 14 June-11 July 2011
  • HIPPO V :: 9 August-9 September 2011