While I was reading how the EU taxes aviation companies based on carbon emissions it occurred to me that the effect of carbon emissions on global temperature etc. may depend on where the carbon is emitted.

My question is: Is it the case that the effect of the release of carbon is dependent upon the location (environment) in which it was released? (For example I could imagine that if CO2 were to be released in a rainforest the effect on the "global atmosphere" would be different than if it were emitted in an already more saturated atmosphere with less potential to utilize (or process) CO2.

Any reference to studies done on the effect of CO2 emissions relative to the environment in which it is emitted would be welcome.

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    $\begingroup$ A side-note: While the location of emission of CO2 does not seem to be relevant according to farrenthorpe's answer, it is relevant for SO2 emissions: gaseous SO2 leads to the formation of fine sulfate particles. These fine particles facilitate cloud formation. Clouds above 'dark' colored areas (like oceans) increase the albedo more than above 'light' areas (relative compared to the situation without clouds). Thus, the cloud's relative cooling effect is higher. Hence, the location of SO2 emissions is relevant for global warming. $\endgroup$ – daniel.neumann Aug 15 '17 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ Also you have formulated the question clearer than I did apparently. The question is indeed about location of emission and environment of emission. Once co2 is in the stratosphere, there does not seem to be much variation in environment based on location. (and also no apparent variation in mechanisms of processing co2). $\endgroup$ – St.Clair Bij Aug 15 '17 at 20:38

The climate impacts of CO2 are not constrained to the location they are emitted, but rather the whole globe will feel the effects. CO2 is a long-lived molecule that takes 100+ years to convert or deposit. The troposphere, though, only takes months to mix. There are longer times for mixing between the north/south hemispheres, (e.g. over a year), but it is still short relative to the lifetime of CO2 in the atmosphere. Globally, you can expect about a 2% variance of CO2 distributions in the well-mixed troposphere.

Here is a recent paper on CO2 distribution from M. Diallo et al.: Global distribution of CO2 in the upper troposphere–stratosphere. The image below (Fig 6a) shows CO2 distribution for different months in color while the isolines are for potential temperature.

CO2 Distribution

  • $\begingroup$ So if I understand you correctly, vegetation, for example, does not play a role in the concentration of local CO2? And also, does this mean that CO2 concentration tends to distribute itself homogeneous globally? I mean that not perse in the sense of troposphere, stratosphere, but in the sense of CO2 emitted on the Northpole vs Rainforest. I see that if 100+ years is true it would allow for such distribution, but it seems to me that the 100+ years does depend on the environment in which it is emitted. $\endgroup$ – St.Clair Bij Aug 15 '17 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ The figures included in the paper on p. 3871 show a huge difference in CO2 concentrations according to latitude. On the Y-axes they indicate altitude. It seems logical that given height differences in troposphere/stratosphere depending on the latitude, CO2 concentration on the same absolute height will be different. (f.e. tropopauze at 0 latitude is much heigher than at 90, also it depends on the season). $\endgroup$ – St.Clair Bij Aug 15 '17 at 8:53
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    $\begingroup$ The concentrations of local CO2 can vary significantly for short periods of time (e.g. days / weeks) but mixing of the atmosphere does not allow this to sustain. And, there is a strong seasonal pattern to CO2, but huge differences is not right... if you look at the scale of the images there is a difference of 380 ppm to 400 ppm across latitudes and altitudes... which is on the order of a few percent difference. $\endgroup$ – farrenthorpe Aug 15 '17 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ That is a huge difference since human activity contributes about 3.7% of C02 while the difference between 380 and 400 is 5%. I thank you for your answer. The question is indeed if on a short term it can vary that much locally, can it be that how co2 is processed also varies locally. The question is whether emitting co2 on the northpole has the same effect on the globe as emitting it in a rain forest. $\endgroup$ – St.Clair Bij Aug 15 '17 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ (thank you for the answer). I do understand that there are not going to many differences in the tropopause and stratosphere, since I do not know any variations of mechanisms of co2 processing on that height. $\endgroup$ – St.Clair Bij Aug 15 '17 at 20:32

As a rule no, while sulfur and nitrogen compounds from industrial and vehicle exhaust have an immediate impact and a relatively fast deposition cycle and thus are extremely location sensitive carbon dioxide is relatively long lived in the atmosphere and too plentiful in discharge to be heavily effected by the environment of discharge, assuming direct atmospheric discharge. If you pumped carbon dioxide discharge into water instead of the air then the atmospheric concentrations would be greatly effected by location, specifically temperature and algal uptake rates.

  • $\begingroup$ But can you assume direct atmospheric discharge given say differences in vegetation for example, i.e. northpole vs rainforest? $\endgroup$ – St.Clair Bij Aug 15 '17 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @St.ClairBij You can assume direct atmospheric discharge in any open environment, only in an artificially vented space would you have indirect discharge and a chance at carbon capture. The reason that vegetation, or lack of, in the immediate environment of discharge doesn't effect Carbon Dioxide in any meaningful way is that the concentration of CO2 in the emissions is overwhelmingly greater than any uptake process that might be active. $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 16 '17 at 11:05

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