A Breathing Earth: Watch the World’s Seasonal “Heartbeat” from Outer Space


Each year we experience our normal seasons of hot and cold. Winter brings snow to many of us, and in summer, often blazing hot temperatures and beach days. John Nelson has given us a new vision of this familiar cycle in the form of a simple GIF… but the result is mesmerizing for its profound demonstration of these cycles upon our lives and the world processes it clearly illustrates.

Nelson, who is more often associated with extremely complex visualizations of weather patterns, used cloudless imagery from the NASA Visible Earth team. He took their flat graphics showing each month of the year and wrapped them around a spherical globe. Then he added some effects like coloration, atmospheric haze, and month information… and that’s about it.

What we see as a result, is seriously hypnotizing. The Earth’s seasonal heartbeat on display as never before. The northern hemisphere’s massive snowpack as it rolls into winter and the vegetation of the world drying and greening as the seasons pass.


Nelson calls his animation The Breathing Earth, and it’s a very apt title. Each year as these cycles progress the CO2 levels of the Earth similarly go up and down. This is because the Earth’s vegetation is not equally influenced by winter and summer cycles happening simultaneously in the northern and southern hemispheres. As a result, the north’s vegetation filters far more CO2 and produces far more oxygen in the summer, and during the long, snowy winter this is significantly less. In contrast, the southern hemisphere has little snow, many thick jungles, and provides much of the world’s valuable air filtration. This can be clearly seen on CO2 level graphs. Among some of the other things Nelson finds fascination about his project:

“The effects of warm currents feeding a surprisingly mild climate in the British Isles. The snowy head start of winter in high elevations like the Himalayas, Rockies, and Caucuses, that spread downward to join the later snowiness of lower elevations. The continental wave of growing grasses in African plains.”

Much larger versions of these images can be seen here.

via fastcodesign

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