State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

What Happens to All The Carbon We Emit?

smoke from car exhaust
Where do our carbon emissions go? A new website explains. Photo: UBC Micrometeorology via Flickr CC

When carbon leaves our power plants and tailpipes, it doesn’t just hang out in the sky forever. Plants and the ocean suck up a surprising portion of the CO2 in the atmosphere. Understanding the role these different storage areas play in absorbing and releasing carbon is essential to understanding and predicting climate change.

If you could use a refresher on the carbon cycle, a new website, created by climate scientist Galen McKinley from Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is a great place to start. The website digs into the details of the carbon cycle, but presents the information in fairly simple language. It is comprehensive, but also comprehensible.

The website and an applet which lets users explore future carbon levels are widely used in classrooms.

McKinley says she created the site because the carbon cycle “is critical to understand in the context of anthropogenic climate change.” She originally built it in 2009 with funding from NASA, but just launched a revamped version in mid-May.

The website is also available in Spanish.

Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

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