Airing dirty laundry


The Vulcan Project, an interactive map and tracking system for carbon dioxide emissions, is like one of those UV light photographs that show all the splotches of sun damage you've accrued on your face over years of neglecting to wear sunscreen. 

Clever scientists at Purdue University have created a Google map that shows not only how much CO2 is wafting from respective regions of the United States, but actually tracks what sector it is coming from. You can see how much greenhouse gas is emitted by your neighborhood, your municipal airport, your local coal-fueled power plant. 

A Vulcan video available on YouTube has real dramatic effect. Gray-purple, 3D, animated plumes of CO2 emanate from America the Beautiful, obscuring our mountain majesties and swamping our amber waves of grain. The simulations wield all the instructive power of a frightening children's cartoon,  showing daily pulses in emissions as well as spatial patterns throughout the country. 

Urban centers in the West are predictably gassy-- LA and the Bay Area stand out. Only the Pacific Northwest and the Dakotas are reliably visible through the clouds. Everything east of Texas is permanently obscured, no matter what time of day it is.  

The images are strange and artful. Like all photographs of Earth from space, they are more instructive than an article, more sobering than a lecture, and more disturbingly beautiful than you'd expect. 

High Country News Classifieds