We know that rush hour and winter heating costs mean more carbon pollution, but what if we could actually see them? In a time-lapse model of emissions in Indianapolis, greenhouse gases show up as soaring 'skyscrapers' over the city.

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The Arizona State University Hestia Project, named for the Greek goddess of the Earth and home, incorporates data-mining with simulation tools for traffic data and building energy consumption. Led by Kevin Robert Gurney, the project's software pulls together air pollution, emissions, usage and traffic info and then plots all the greenhouse gas emissions and their sources on a dynamic, high-resolution city map.

In a model completed for Indianapolis, multi-colored columns resembling skyscrapers reveal where, when, and how greenhouse gases were emitted. The map breaks them down into three segments, one for residential areas, another for vehicles and a third showing industrial, commercial, electricity production, and airports.

A gray ring shows traffic emissions while CO2 from residences appears in green. A coal-burning power plant and international airport resulted in the tallest red emissions skyscrapers for Indianapolis. The model can also show emissions down to individual buildings and streets.

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The project's YouTube video shows what happens to emissions levels over time in the city. As day changes to night and summer shifts to winter in Indianapolis, the emissions from specific sources pulse up and down:

The researchers say this system can be applied to any U.S. city and they're currently working on maps for Los Angeles and Phoenix. No matter how many numbers get thrown around, we can't fix what we can't see. Maybe now city planners, citizens, and politicians will finally understand what's happening and have a shot at changing it.

Image: A still from Hestia Project's dynamic map of CO2 emissions in Indianapolis. Credit: Bedrich Benes and Michel Abdul-Massih.