Here is a measurement of CO2 concentration by altitude measured by aircraft:
(from Pulsed airborne lidar measurements of atmospheric CO2 column absorption)

enter image description here

Is this the usual vertical structure of CO2? Why is it at a higher concentration close to the surface and then uniform at a certain point?

  • $\begingroup$ have you tried to find information about this before you posted this question,there is lots of information about this out there on the internet. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 6:35
  • $\begingroup$ Yes I have. Can you point me to a source that explains this? $\endgroup$
    – Gorgulak
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 7:55

1 Answer 1


The volume of carbon dioxide in the atmospheric column becomes uniform at altitude because the sources and sinks for CO2 are generally at ground level and, as it rises, CO2 becomes well-mixed into the atmosphere.

This is why, for example, David Keeling began the measurements for what would become known as the Keeling Curve at a station 3.3 kilometers above ground level at Mauna Loa.

At ground level, CO2 levels will be heavily influenced by local and seasonal sources such as forests, grasslands, and human activity. That is, if you have a city or industrial area, CO2 emissions will be high due to the burning of fossil fuels. In the case of nature, forests and grasslands will absorb CO2 during the local spring and summer when they grow and emit CO2 in fall and winter as they decompose. (Seen in the annual wiggles in the generally rising Keeling Curve.)

Keeling Curve showing general rise, annual wiggles

The specifics will vary by location. In the case of your graph, this late-fall test proofing lidar against balloon measurements over Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 2008 shows CO2 at about 395 ppm at about a half a kilometer, declining with altitude so that at about 3.3km, the measurement is around 385-386ppm.

At Mauna Loa, at 3.3km, the NOAA monthly CO2 data average for December 2008 was 385.56ppm.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Did you intend to write "in the local spring and summer" rather than "in the local spring and winter"? $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ The CO2 molecule is heavier than air, which should dominate the low altitude concentration dependence. The leveling-off needs greater explanation. $\endgroup$
    – Schroeder
    Commented Oct 11, 2021 at 21:43

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