Seeing Co2 : The Invisible Made Visible

October 17, 2014

See more at, including the spectacular video below.

20 Responses to “Seeing Co2 : The Invisible Made Visible”

  1. firstdano Says:

    FYI: FLIR is also making small hyperspectral cameras to fly on drones (NOT flying death robots) for agriculture and other plant uses.



  2. dumboldguy Says:

    I’m in favor of any “magic tricks” for visualizing CO2 or any other “hard to see” aspects of global warming, and the video IS spectacular, but the science behind “making the invisible visible” is a bit shaky. That camera is not capturing images of CO2 per se, unless someone knows more about ‘filters” than I do and can explain how. It is capturing images of heat energy, and only some part of the “hot” emissions pictured are CO2—-most are water vapor, oxygen, nitrogen, and other combustion products. That is true of the human breath as well. Not 100% honest, IMO.

    My favorite “visual” is the 20 loaves of bread that are the weight equivalent of the CO2 released by burning one gallon of gasoline. No misleading “magic” and understandable by all. Fill the back of soccer mom’s minivan with 400 loaves of bread every time she buys 20 gallons of gas—-tell her she must dispose of them in an environmentally sound fashion—-you will get her attention.

    • Well, I suspect that the filter is tuned to a narrow CO2 emissions band. So yes, there will be black-body (heat) radiation present in that band, but also yes, CO2 should show up strongly where present.

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Sorry, but there is no “filter” that is being “tuned” as you suggest to a
        “narrow CO2 emissions band”. I was actually being a bit sarcastic by asking the question, and my “magic tricks” phrasing should have been a clue there.

        I will repeat: “It is capturing images of heat energy, and only some part of the “hot” emissions pictured are CO2—-most are water vapor, oxygen, nitrogen, and other combustion products. That is true of the human breath as well”.

        Looking at the images of the planes, cars, and motorcycles as well as the human exhalations, it should be obvious that it’s simply heat we’re looking at. That is particularly obvious in the motorcvle shots, where the engine, exhaust pipes, tire treads, exhaust vapors. and disc brakes all radiate differing amounts of IR indicating different temperatures.

        The exhaled air is almost the same composition as what is inhaled, except that it has less oxygen (down to ~16% from 20%), and more CO2 (up from a trace to ~4%). It is still 96% O2 and N2, and has been saturated with water vapor and heated to near body temperature. What we see in the clip is an IR analog to the visible “breath” you see on a cold winter day, and it’s mostly warm air and water vapor, not “invisible” CO2 being made “visible”.

          • dumboldguy Says:


            Yep, heat-sensing cameras is what it’s all about. Not CO2. Not emission or absorption spectra, just heat.

        • ontspan Says:

          Emission of radiation in the IR spectrum is commonly known as ‘heat’. CO2 emits ‘heat’ in a series of specific wavelengths. When you detect heat radiation at 4 um then you know pretty sure it’s CO2. A wide-band heatsensing camera fitted with narrow-band filter around 4 um will turn the camera in a CO2 seeing camera. It also helps that the exhaust fumes are hot so the CO2 radiates more.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            The CO2 emissions observed by thermal cameras are quite weak because CO2 has a strong peak in the detector bandwidth only at 4.245 μm. The camera operates over a total bandwidth of 3 to 5 μm. Trying to look only at the thermal emission from the CO2 using an external band-pass filter centered on the CO2 emission peak as you suggest should allow only the infrared that has that bandwidth to pass.

            As I said, it looks like a lot more “heat” across the IR bandwidth than just what the CO2 emits is being captured here by the camera. Look at the video clip again and reread my comment. Somebody is not being 100% honest about “making the invisible visible”—-at least not about the CO2 part.

            PS I wonder what the peaks are for Oxygen, Nitrogen, and water vapor?

          • ontspan Says:

            Narrow band filters don’t block other frequencies completely, they just suppress them. But I don’t really understand your distrust: narrow band IR filtering is commonly used to detect the presence of specific gasses.

            Depending on the characteristics of the filter a nearby water vapor peak is also able to squeeze through.

            It would not be difficult for the film crew to devise a test to show if they are able to ‘see’ CO2. Simply ‘inverse’ this experiment where they also (but indirectly) detect CO2.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            I don’t “distrust” narrow band filters, I am merely saying that this is a misleading gimmick that is going to be of little use. I made the point to YOU that the filters “don’t block other frequencies completely, they just suppress them”, and that the “heat” from oxygen, nitrogen, and water vapor in the exhaust gasses far surpassed emissions from the CO2.

            Your two links prove little—-read the comments about the “experiment” being just another “gimmick”, and that talking about the gasses that industry seeks to detect is an “apples and oranges” thing when compared to CO2 detection, which is really pointless—we know it’s there, can calculate how much is there on the basis of how much fuel is burned, and don’t need to “see” it.

            At any rate, I’m done discussing this with you—-you are welcome to believe what you want to believe, and I see the discussions of methane on other threads as being more useful—-see you there.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yes, this is a much better explanation because it does speak more clearly to the narrow band 4.2-4.4 filter that they used. IMO, there is still a little bit of marketing BS in there.l Like this:

            “This particular camera is designed to see in the 4.2-4.4 micron band. This makes CO2 gas stand out prominently as long as the gas is either hotter or colder than the background scene behind the gas and around it. The camera will also see objects other than CO2 gas clouds, since everything emits some infrared energy in the 4.2-4.4 micron band. So the camera functions as both a thermal imager to see the car, and a gas camera to see CO2 in the exhaust coming out of the car’s tailpipe”.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            PS Forgot to mention that I agree with the comments by Scott Gates at the end of your link. He makes the point I was making in some of my comments.

    • Alan Thorpe Says:

      Of course the camera is recording CO2. This is one of the known uses of thermal cameras. Gas leaks can be dangerous and thermal cameras are used for remote detection.

      There was an experiment broadcast by the BBC known as the candle experiment. The geologist and presenter Iain Stewart conducted the demonstration. Here is a link to a video of the experiment:

      Proof that humans are causing global warming according to Stewart. However, this experiment was created by Dr Jonathan Hare at the Creative Science Centre at Sussex University and he made the mistake of describing how the experiment was created and posting the information on the internet. Here is the link

      This proof was nothing more than a magic trick performed with a thermal camera that would detect CO2 whatever the temperature. Since the CO2 was released from a cylinder I assume that it cooled and the CO2 in the experiment was colder than the air. But we were told the CO2 had become warmer. Sums up the nonsense of climate science.

  3. Oh, and by the way: I love that UN video! Fabulous when viewed full-screen.

  4. […] See more at, including the spectacular video below.  […]

  5. climatebob Says:

    Now that CO2 is at 400 ppm levels last seen in the Pliocene epoch 4 million years ago we have to wonder how out trees are going to fayer.

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