The Challenge

Create an application to examine the variation and change in CO2 levels across North America for the last 2-3 years, based on geographic sub-units of your choosing, and tell your own story of human-atmospheric interactions.



Fitbit alta watches

to encourage a healthy lifestyle


$1,000 Skywatch credit

to help deploy your app



As the human population on Earth grows, we continue to shape and to be influenced by the environments we live in.  One often overlooked environment is our own atmosphere – the air that we breathe.  What are some ways in which we affect this environment and how do local, regional, and even global variations influence our lives?

Your challenge is to overlay atmospheric CO2 data with human dimensions data from resources like NASA's Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Indicators Database, to see if any interesting patterns and stories emerge!


The Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-­2) is a satellite mission mission collecting space-­based global measurements of atmospheric CO2 with the precision, resolution, and coverage needed to characterize sources and sinks (fluxes) on regional scales (≥1000km). OCO-­2 is also able to quantify CO2 variability over the seasonal cycles year after year.  The Satellite collects detailed global measurements – around 100,000 a day – answering important questions about where carbon is coming from and where it is being stored and these data are available through the SkyWatch API.

The SEDAC is a Data Center in NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS).  This center is hosted by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, New York, USA, and it stores data on several human dimensions of Earth Science. 

On September 25th 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), designed to engage all countries and all stakeholders in a collaborative partnership to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. SDG 13 addresses the need to take urgent action to combat atmospheric change and its impacts.

Perhaps the most striking atmospheric change is caused by anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses. Such change impacts natural and human systems globally through the increase globally averaged surface temperature, extreme weather events, changing precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification. These risks will ultimately impact people’s livelihoods, particularly marginalized groups such as women, children, and the elderly, as resources, food, and water become more scarce. Those effects also impact the other SDGs and often make it more difficult to achieve them.



As you develop your solution, consider the following:

  • What makes your story compelling?  Why should others pay attention to these data?
  • How can you show others how conditions have changed over time and across geography?
  • How can you develop new information systems to track, monitor, and report on SDGs at different levels (for example, national, regional, and global)?


For example:

  • Consider how large urban areas may affect, and be affected by, local, regional, and even global patterns.
  •  Does rural land cover at the macro scale effect the distribution of carbon within the atmosphere?
  • What effect, if any, do Ocean’s or large water bodies cause?
  •  Are there other atmospheric influences that can affect the carbon distribution?


To achieve the UNFCCC goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the world must transform its energy, industry, transport, food, agriculture and forestry systems to ensure that cumulative net emissions do not exceed one trillion tonnes of cumulative carbon, which implies global net zero emissions by the second half of the century. Simultaneously the world needs to anticipate, adapt, and become resilient to the current and expected future impacts of atmospheric change.

Think of your own examples to illustrate these points and highlight the human-atmospheric interactions!