Visualizing Carbon Pathways

Ali Whitmer, Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara

Bruce Caron, The New Media Studio, Santa Barbara, California

LuAnn Dahlman, Center for Earth and Space Science Education at TERC

David Herring, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Ray Tschillard, Greely Schools, Greely, Colorado
Betsy Youngman, Science Education Consultant, TERC, contributor

Published: March 2005. Last Updated: August 2011.


Chlorophyll concentrations detected by the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) aboard NASA's Aqua satellite, July 2011. Source: NASA NEO

Earth contains a fixed amount of carbon. Over time, all the carbon atoms in the Earth system move among reservoirs in rocks, oceans, the atmosphere, and living organisms as part of a geochemical cycle. However, between one and two billion metric tons of carbon per year are "missing" from the environment. In other words, scientists cannot account for 15 to 30 percent of the carbon that humans annually release into the atmosphere. This lack of understanding about what happens to carbon prevents scientists from developing accurate models.

Though we don't have a full understanding of how carbon moves through the Earth system, we have the ability to obtain satellite images that indicate carbon's presence. We can generate animations of these images to help us visualize the pathways that carbon follows. This EET Chapter will introduce you to visualization capabilities available through NASA's Earth Observatory, global map collection, NASA NEO and ImageJ. Using these tools, you'll build several animations of satellite data that illustrate carbon pathways through the Earth system. For instance, you'll build animations of fire images that indicate carbon is being released into the atmosphere. You'll also make animations of plant productivity images that indicate carbon is being removed from the atmosphere and locked into the biosphere.

This chapter is part of the Earth Exploration Toolbook. Each chapter provides teachers and/or students with direct practice for using scientific tools to analyze Earth science data. Students should begin on the Case Study page.

      Next Page »

The EET web site collects no personally identifying information and so is compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act. The site is constructed with tools that attempt to ensure the broadest possible accessibility in line with section 508 and w3c guidelines.