Greenhouse gas milestone: CO2 levels set record

Worldwide levels of the chief greenhouse gas that causes global warming have hit a milestone, reaching an amount never before encountered by humans, federal scientists said Friday.
Associated Press
May 13, 2013

 

Carbon dioxide was measured at 400 parts per million at the oldest monitoring station which is in Hawaii sets the global benchmark. The last time the worldwide carbon level was probably that high was about 2 million years ago, said Pieter Tans of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That was during the Pleistocene Era. "It was much warmer than it is today," Tans said. "There were forests in Greenland. Sea level was higher, between 10 and 20 meters (33 to 66 feet)."

Other scientists say it may have been 10 million years ago that Earth last encountered this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The first modern humans only appeared in Africa about 200,000 years ago.

The measurement was recorded Thursday and it is only a daily figure, the monthly and yearly average will be smaller. The number 400 has been anticipated by climate scientists and environmental activists for years as a notable indicator, in part because it's a round number — not because any changes in man-made global warming happen by reaching it.

"Physically, we are no worse off at 400 ppm than we were at 399 ppm," Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer said. "But as a symbol of the painfully slow pace of measures to avoid a dangerous level of warming, it's somewhat unnerving."

Environmental activists, such as former Vice President Al Gore, seized on the milestone.

"This number is a reminder that for the last 150 years — and especially over the last several decades — we have been recklessly polluting the protective sheath of atmosphere that surrounds the Earth and protects the conditions that have fostered the flourishing of our civilization," Gore said in a statement. "We are altering the composition of our atmosphere at an unprecedented rate."

Carbon dioxide traps heat just like in a greenhouse and most of it stays in the air for a century; some lasts for thousands of years, scientists say. It accounts for three-quarters of the planet's heat-trapping gases. There are others, such as methane, which has a shorter life span but traps heat more effectively. Both trigger temperatures to rise over time, scientists say, which is causing sea levels to rise and some weather patterns to change.

When measurements of carbon dioxide were first taken in 1958, it measured 315 parts per million. Some scientists and environmental groups promote 350 parts per million as a safe level for CO2, but scientists acknowledge they don't really know what levels would stop the effects of global warming.

The level of carbon dioxide in the air is rising faster than in the past decades, despite international efforts by developed nations to curb it. On average the amount is growing by about 2 parts per million per year. That's 100 times faster than at the end of the Ice Age.

Back then, it took 7,000 years for carbon dioxide to reach 80 parts per million, Tans said. Because of the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, carbon dioxide levels have gone up by that amount in just 55 years.

Before the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels were around 280 ppm, and they were closer to 200 during the Ice Age, which is when sea levels shrank and polar places went from green to icy. There are natural ups and downs of this greenhouse gas, which comes from volcanoes and decomposing plants and animals. But that's not what has driven current levels so high, Tans said. He said the amount should be even higher, but the world's oceans are absorbing quite a bit, keeping it out of the air.

"What we see today is 100 percent due to human activity," said Tans, a NOAA senior scientist. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.

The world pumps on average 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the air every second for a total of 38.2 billion tons in 2011, according international calculations published in a scientific journal in December. China spews 10 billion tons of carbondioxide into the air per year, leading all countries, and its emissions are growing about 10 percent annually. The U.S. at No. 2 is slowly cutting emissions and is down to 5.9 billion tons per year.

The speed of the change is the big worry, said Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann. If carbon dioxide levels go up 100 parts per million over thousands or millions of years, plants and animals can adapt. But that can't be done at the speed it is now happening.

Last year, regional monitors briefly hit 400 ppm in the Arctic. But those monitoring stations aren't seen as a world mark like the one at Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

Generally carbon levels peak in May then fall slightly, so the yearly average is usually a few parts per million lower than May levels.

 

Comments

Kimo

Republican posts..... "Not True"........
end of story

Nor'easter

Ohio was covered by Ice 4 Miles (21,120 feet) high 12,000 years age. What did the native Americans do then to cause the ice to melt? It certainly was not caused in the 20th Century. Global warming is a figment of Al Gore's imagination.

eriemom

Keep trying to justify "Climate Change is a hoax." Glaciation is one way that climate is forced, but it has a different cause. Gore is only a speaker. He does not do the science. He only explains the data in a way that non-scientists can understand it.

arnmcrmn

Gore is only a speaker? He's made billions off of global warming. He surpassed Romney in wealth.....WHERE's the outrage.

Follow the money.....Gore stinks like crap.

Minuteman

It's not a political issue. It's an issue of fraud. The atmosphere is constantly changing, everyday is a new pattern that has never happened before. Like a new set of fingerprints everyday. No repeats. How it will change is an unknown, cooler or warmer is it's natural progression. Our pollution has little to no effect on the cycle of the atmosphere, as is touted by those with a plan or program that will make them fame and fortune. One volcanic eruption produces 1000 times the pollution we have made in all of history. The atmosphere cleans itself up faster than scientists can figure. Mt. St. Helens should have taken a couple years at least, according to the best minds, and the soot was gone in 3 months. I think it's the interaction with the oceans, land, and space. How they interact is the key. There are billions in government grants if you want to do research along these lines. You don't need to instill fear into the public to make a fortune from climate change.

The Bizness

The Wisconsin glacial episode was at its maximum nearly 21,000 years ago. It ended around 10,000 years ago, and Ohio was not covered I 4 miles of ice 12,000 years ago.

Keep listening to pseudo science though.

2cents

LOL, we stop using it because of air pollution but ship it to those who pollute!

(Longer term factors include the contrast between declining US demand for coal and increasing European and strong rising Asian demand.)

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index...

The Bizness

This is a problem indeed. Europe has invested in very expensive ultra clean coal plants that do carbon sequestering, and Asia needs to be keep an eye on. China does invest the most in the world in renewable energy.

The Bizness

+

WiseManOnceSaid

I love when people argue that because global warming also occurs naturally that there is no way all of our pollution can have any effect on it. Keep listening to Faux News

Contango

Rising CO2 levels:

Hot air from rich ($200 million) hypocrites like Al Gore who's never sold his daddy's Occidental Petroleum holdings.

H*ll even Tipper got tired of his crap.

The Earth has gone through five known Ice Ages. The globe cools and warms – climate change.

What EXACTLY is the CORRECT avg. temp of the Earth?

There are numerous positives to a warmer climate, but the chicken littles tend to focus on possible negatives, using it to scare themselves and in turn force others into their religious fervor.

H*ll, one good-sized asteroid or gamma ray burst and the human race is DOA.

WiseManOnceSaid

I believe one theory currently says we are in a retreating ice age now. It is the only time there have been two ice caps on the poles and not mostly covered by ice. The only thing that saved another extensive ice age was india running into Asia and forming the Himalayas and the Isthmus at Panama. They attribute these formations to changing air and water currents stopping widespread glaciation

eriemom

One of the negatives should concern us all. Farmers are already finding it difficult to grow our food when weather (micro climate) fluctuates from one extreme, like drought, to the other, like flooding.

I guess one of the positives could be that I get to wear flip-flops year round.

Contango

Two off the top: Longer growing seasons and fewer deaths due to cold.

(Cold weather kills more people worldwide than heat.)

And quit eating meat - according to AGW worshippers, you're helping to add to the production of methane to the atmosphere. Tsk, tsk.

Global warming can't exist: Al Gore is FAT. :)

arnmcrmn

Really.....I have farmers in my office all the time and they had better than expected results last year.....and it was hot and dry.

eriemom

Ask a farmer how a longer growing season will affect food production when it includes drought and flood. I just replaced my roof gutters with new 6 inch size.

Fewer death due to heat than cold is based on today's stats. The rational does not include increases of heat related deaths as the planet warms.It also does not include catastrophic weather related mortality.

Winnie, when we discuss this, you need not make it a personal issue. Name-calling is a reaction that children use when unable to develop an educated argument.

Contango

@ eriemom:

"Name-calling"?

Are you an omnivore or not? Reads highly hypocritical to me.

Do as I say, NOT as I do?

And hysterical dogma and force is what the ignorant and central planning authoritarians use.

The only reason the AGWers are coming out with this record setting CO2 levels nonsense is because much of the nation is experiencing a record setting cold Spring.

If it's too hot - it's AGW; if it's too cold - it's AGW; if it's too dry -it's AGW; if it's too wet - it's AGW; if it's JUST RIGHT - it's AGW. Sheesh!

The Bizness

You love this meat eating thing.

some people eat meat once a week (like me) and try to make sure it is organic, locally source. The problem comes when one eats meat every meal every day.

I am not asking people to give up modern amenities rather use less fossil fuels and chemicals.

Btw we all are hypocrites at some points in our lives.

eriemom

@ Biz:
He gets all bent out of shape about cows farting.

eriemom

@ winnie:
1) Yes, rat
2) I have never told you what to eat. We are all omnivores.

Hysterical? Do you use this term when describing males or is this just another name?

400 is only a fact. You need not pay any attention to it what-so-ever.

What part of climate change escapes your ability to understand? Yes, too hot. Yes, too dry (drought). Yes, too wet (floods). Yes, some days are Goldilocks, just right. What are the tends for each of these? The trend is skewing positive to hot, flood, drought and negative cold.

rjk1915

Global warming is real, not politicsl. I know what I'm talking about; I was an air pollution research engineer.

happyfeet64

RE:eriemom: Good one on the cows' flatuence! Anyway, anyone on here has the ability to believe what they want. You can rationalize it all you want. You can try to put political agenda on it all you want- fact is not every scientist,climatologist and any others who tries to give us a heads up is in it for personal gain. Whether the Earth has gone thru similar action in the past doesn't necessarily play into this because of the fact we now have more people on this Earth than ever before, more mouths to feed, more energy to produce and waste, MORE of everything! So how is it that the naysayers still want to deny fact. Whether this is a so called "natural" occurrence is a moot point because our planet has never before dealt with this much crap. I'm not ,by far, an hysterical person or a "chicken little" and have done my own research, taking into account that some people have a personal agenda but I'm not going to dismiss what I see around me or dismiss AGW when the facts are clear! Since, I am running out the door at this moment, I would post data but don't have the time. Oh,I'm walking not driving a car!

Contango

Man-made global warming "experts":

When you can’t dazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle ’em with bull sh*t.

AGW is an incentive trap:

The U.S. could reduce it's GH gases down to zero, bankrupt our entire society and it WOULDN'T MAKE A DIFFERENCE as the rest of world would continue to burn fossil fuels.

@ eriemom: You eat rat? Good for you - lower on the food chain.

eriemom

@ winnie: Of course I don't eat rats. I answered your questions/statements.My typo.

Name calling = fat, hysterical, etc.,

So. You moved from Climate Change is not real, to even if it's true it would cost to much to do anything about it. And anyway, we shouldn't have to, because the rest of the world isn't.

The Big Dog's back

Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Off-topic comments.

arnmcrmn

Everything else in this world goes in cycles......except our planet and its weather.........only in the liberals world and mindset.

You simply cannot win with the liberal global crowd. Record hot summer last year...global warming. Cool Spring this year...global warming. 12 inches of snow in December....global warming. Golf in December in Ohio....global warming.......see the trend?

eriemom

Here's the problem arnmcrmn, none of us win when Earth's climate changes as quickly as it currently is. Nothing but bacteria can evolve at this pace.

My mistake. Insects and some parasites can too.

The Bizness

All those examples you gave are weather. Sure last year was a top 10 year in terms of warmth globally. No one is saying that a single day is proof of climate change. It is analytics, and reasoning that points to it being accelerated by humans.

When a credible, peer reviewed study comes out that shows it is 100% natural I will listen. Every climate scientist out there would love to prove that climate change is not human caused.

eriemom

@Biz: I would love it to be disproved, as well. It just isn't happening. Biology, physics, chemistry, all of the disciplines of science are working to find an alternative hypothesis. Think about the notoriety that would bring. Scientists are not remembered for agreeing with everyone else.

arnmcrmn

And what about the ice caps. All you hear from the liberal media, with no scientific evidence is the ice is melting the ice is melting........hate to break it to you but its not.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focu...

On one hand you global warming followers say that we can't prove that its just a cycle. So how do you know its not? Where is your proof that it is not a cycle. The earth is how old? How far back can science really go? Truth is.....its all estimates and assuming and you know what assuming can do.

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