CO2 Levels In Earth’s Atmosphere Just Reached Highest In Human History

At the Mauna Loa Observatory, a high-altitude atmospheric research facility in Hawaii, carbon dioxide levels have reached a record breaking value.

You may have heard that CO2 levels are through the roof lately. If you didn’t hear that, they are. At the Mauna Loa Observatory, a high-altitude atmospheric research facility in Hawaii, carbon dioxide levels have recently reached a record–breaking 410 parts per million (ppm).

This is bad news for people who like livable weather, as the number represents an increase of 43 ppm compared to last year. The significance? “The more CO2 we spew into the atmosphere,” says Katharine Hayhoe, Director of Texas Tech University’s Climate Science Center, “the more likely it is that we will trigger some of these climate change impacts faster than they would otherwise occur.”

To put things in context: According to observations from Mauna Loa and other historic data from ice cores and seabed sediments (which can capture air bubbles!), this type of rapid increase in CO2 has never before been seen without accompanying major volcanic eruptions or meteorite collisions with Earth.

The facility has been measuring CO2 levels for decades and the results are grim.

The facility is operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has been measuring CO2 levels at Mauna Loa since 1958. The scientific results are grim, as they’ve found average monthly concentrations of CO2 have increased by more than 25% over that time period. In particular, they saw an increase from 409.65 parts per million (ppm) in May of 2018 to 411.25 ppm in May of 2019—an increase of 1.6 ppm, or 0.39%.

““In a professional tone:This might not sound like a lot—the increase amounts to less than half a percent—but the implications for our planet are dire if we continue down this road much longer. The rate of global CO2 pollution growth has accelerated sharply since the early 2000s despite efforts to reduce it through climate change policy and renewable energy investment, according to Quartz.

The average monthly concentration of CO2 reached 411.25 parts per million (ppm), which is the highest level recorded since measurements started in 1958.

The average monthly concentration of CO2 reached 411.25 parts per million (ppm), which is the highest level recorded since measurements started in 1958, according to an announcement from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Mauna Loa Observatory / Via scripps.ucsd.edu

That’s a record increase from last year, when levels rose by 2.93 ppm; this year it’s 3.05 ppm, according to Ralph Keeling, director of CO2 programs at Scripps. And it’s higher than the previous record set in 2015 — when the world experienced a major El Niño event that temporarily shrank tropical forests’ capacity to absorb emissions from human activity — and every other year since before 1960. To put that in perspective: Before industrialization began around 1750, concentrations were around 280 ppm; about 100 years ago they were around 300 ppm; as recently as 1959 they were about 315 ppm; 10 years ago they hovered around 385 ppm; and 20 years ago they were near 368 ppm.

The number marks a record increase from just last year, when levels were recorded at 408 ppm.

The measurement of the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at Mauna Loa Observatory, which is run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been taken since 1958. It shows a clear trend: The amount of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere has been creeping up over time, as human activity pumps more and more carbon into it.

Last year, global greenhouse gas emissions hit an unprecedented high. The increase in the amount of these emissions each year is accelerating.

This may seem like a bad thing to you, but on behalf of our government I would like to clarify that this is good news. We love CO2! CO2 makes trees grow tall and strong and leafy so they can store more CO2!

And that means a lot of climate change impacts are more likely than they were ten years ago.

While atmospheric CO2 levels started to increase rapidly in the 1950s, it’s only in the last decade or so that we’ve really seen a tremendous number of climate-related impacts, including record-breaking high temperatures and extreme weather events worldwide, record-breaking melting of polar ice, and record-breaking sea level rise. In other words: climate change is real and it’s here.

Climate scientists are saying things like “We know what happens as CO2 goes up.”

That’s because, in the past 800,000 years, as we know from ice cores and other data, there have been only three times when CO2 was higher than 310 parts per million (ppm): during the Pliocene epoch more than 3 million years ago, when sea levels were 65 feet higher; at the beginning of the current interglacial perio about 11,000 years ago when levels reached 300 ppm; and now.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado: “In 2013 concentrations averaged 395.31 ppm…. This was an increase of 2.67 ppm compared to 2012…and represents an increased growth rate over previous years.”

It gets worse. In May 2013 NOAA reported that for April 2013 CO2 concentration in our atmosphere reached a monthly average of 400 ppm at all its Arctic monitoring stations for the first time ever recorded.

According to a paper published Monday in Nature Climate Change by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and University of Victoria British Columbia: “Although it is uncertain whether global mean temperature can be held below 2 degrees above pre-industrial globally averaged temperature with high probability,” if temperatures get above 4 degrees C they will stay there for thousands of years according to their numerical experiments using ice sheet models.

And “The planet warms. Eventually we reach a threshold where no amount of cutting CO2 can stop ice sheets from melting.”

You’ve likely heard of the “tipping point.” It’s the moment when a seemingly innocuous stimulus—a single drop of liquid on an overfull cup, say—causes a chain reaction that eventually results in cataclysmic change. Long before this moment, we can see the change gathering momentum, but until it happens there’s still hope that if we act fast enough we can avoid disaster and return to business as usual.

According to climate scientists, humanity crossed its own tipping point decades ago. We are now in a period of rapid climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. The effects include rising sea levels and increasing global temperatures, which in turn cause extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods, which wreak havoc on food production and water systems around the world. These effects will continue for years to come—and all because of excess CO2 in our atmosphere that is taking thousands of years to disappear naturally (more on how CO2 affects climate here). There is nothing we can do now or in the near future to stop it.

Our best hope at this point is trying to mitigate the worst effects by cutting back carbon emissions as much as possible—but even then it may be too late.

Which means sea level rise will be worse than previously thought, and so will droughts and heat waves.

Meanwhile, climate change itself is likely to accelerate the ice melt and therefore sea-level rise. That’s because greenhouse gases not only trap heat in the atmosphere but also warm up Earth’s entire system, from land to air to water. And that means more heatwaves, droughts and floods, which are all linked to higher CO2 levels.

“The higher temperatures go, the more impact we’re going to see on society,” said Katharine Mach, an associate professor at Stanford University who was not involved with the NOAA report. “And when it comes to global warming impacts like wildfires or hurricanes or heat waves or droughts, we don’t want that kind of record.”

But this is not strictly bad news for everyone.

But this is not strictly bad news for everyone. For example, farmers stand to benefit from the increase in atmospheric CO2 across the globe. As The Guardian notes:

In a high-carbon world, crops are likely to grow bigger and faster. In 2015, Harvard University researchers found that wheat grown in elevated CO2 had greater water efficiency and produced more seeds per plant. And higher CO2 levels have also been shown to increase crop yields of rice, wheat and corn.

“Although there are some modest negative impacts on nutritional quality at elevated CO2 concentrations,” study coauthor Samuel Myers told The Guardian, “there will be regions where food production increases by 50% or more with one or two degrees of warming.”

Given such findings, it’s no wonder that many international leaders are hesitant to make changes to their own carbon emissions policies—particularly if they rely heavily on agricultural exports like wheat or corn. China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide; however, the country has made only vague promises about reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and moving towards cleaner sources of energy in the coming decades.

Farmers stand to benefit from the new highs. While high concentrations of CO2 can be detrimental to plants, some crops actually flourish with it – like corn, wheat, rice and soybeans.

While high concentrations of CO2 can be detrimental to plants, some crops actually flourish with it. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that corn, wheat, rice and soybeans – many of which are the building blocks of the American diet – have benefits from CO2 growth.

“These four crops account for over half of the calories we eat,” says Steve Nerem, who leads NASA’s sea level rise project. “Wheat is feeding most of the world.”

In 2018, Ameri

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