Ecocentric

Greenhouse Effect: CO2 Concentrations Set to Hit Record High of 400 PPM

Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are set to pass 400 ppm, far faster than scientists would have predicted. That shows how difficult it's been to reduce carbon emissions—and points the way towards dangerous warming in the future

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Jonathan Kingston

Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii

Climate change is, first and foremost, a consequence of the addition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. We emit carbon dioxide, through burning fossil fuels or forests, and some of that carbon stays in the atmosphere, intensifying the heat-trapping greenhouse effect and warming the climate. What kind of global warming we’ll see in the future will largely be due to how much carbon dioxide—and to a lesser extent, other greenhouse gases like methane—we add to the atmosphere. And to fully understand the future, we need to understand the present and the past, and track the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The fact that we can and have been tracking that very important number is due largely to the efforts of the geochemist Charles David Keeling. As a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology in the 1950s, Keeling developed the first instrument that could accurately measure the CO2 levels in the entire atmosphere through sampling. When he got to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography a few years later, Keeling began taking regularly CO2 measurements at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Keeling discovered that atmospheric CO2 underwent a seasonal cycle, as plants bloomed and decayed in the Northern Hemisphere, and more importantly, that CO2 was rising fast. In 1958, CO2 levels recorded at Mauna Loa were about 316 parts per million (ppm). By 2005, when Keeling died—and his son, Ralph Keeling, took up the project—CO2 levels were just under 380 ppm. Plotted on a graph, the readings over time curve upwards sharply as humans added more and more CO2 to the atmosphere—which is why the readings came to be known as the Keeling Curve.

(MORE: As the World Keeps Getting Warmer, California Begins to Cap Carbon)

Now, thanks to Keeling’s successors at Scripps, we know that global CO2 levels are about to pass a major threshold: 400 ppm. It’s a momentous enough occasion, at least for scientists, that Scripps has begun releasing daily readings—today the level is 399.50 ppm—on a website and via a Twitter account. We should pass 400 ppm any day now—possibly, by the time that you read this. And that’s not good.

The fact that we’re going to cross 400 ppm doesn’t mean that much by itself. It’s not like the sound barrier—the difference in warming between 399 ppm and 400 ppm would likely be minute. But the sheer rate of increase over just the past 55 years shows how fast global warming could hit us in the future—and the present—and underscores how much we’ve failed as a planet to slow down carbon emissions. As Ralph Keeling put it in a statement:

I wish it weren’t true, but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400-ppm level without losing a beat. At this pace we’ll hit 450 ppm within a few decades.

400 ppm may be high enough. The last time CO2 levels were this high was likely during the Pliocene epoch, between 3.2 million and 5 million years ago. The Earth’s climate was warmer during the Pliocene than it is today—perhaps by 2 to 3 C—and sea levels were much higher. It was a very different planet than the one we’ve lived on so successfully for thousands of years.

There’s no guarantee that we’d experience the same levels of warming in the future if CO2 levels stay that high, but it doesn’t look good. Nor will CO2 levels stop at 400 ppm—barring a virtually impossible immediate turn away from fossil fuels, CO2 emissions will keep growing globally, and CO2 concentrations will keep rising. The U.N.’s official goal is to keep CO2 levels below 450 ppm, and as Ralph Keeling indicated, we’re rapidly running out of time to make that happen. CO2 can stay in the atmosphere for centuries, which means that we’ve already baked in far more warming than we’ve yet experienced. But we will soon enough. The Keeling Curve tells us our past, but it’s also a roadmap for our future—a future that will almost certainly be hotter and wilder.

MORE: Anthropocene: Do We Need a New Environmentalism for a New Age?

35 comments
RayMartin
RayMartin

People get confused with science. they think that the medical scientists are the same as climate scientists. The difference is that progress in medical science is made through the process of mistakes. It is test based. The first test you make will always be a mistake. Climate scientists cant test data. So this is untested science and therefore not reliable. It is also the first test that they are making. They have no way of knowing what other variables are at work unlike in medicine where your tests will reveal something wrong in your model. The media latch on to global warming it because it sells but its untested.


RayMartin
RayMartin

science only picks and chooses things over long time spans. so, for example, they just pick the Co2 concentration but ignore other changes in the environment such as global foliage cover. in otherwords they always miss the big picture and thats why science has proved not to be too good at forecasting such as oil reserves

TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@RayMartin Wrong, they look at the BIG picture.

You must be very new to this subject.

http://climate.nasa.gov/causes

We have cut down 20% of the S.A. Rainforests, the "lungs" of the Earth. 

Oil is not a very good example being that we found a better way to drill and frack, no one can predict future tech.

Perhaps we will use that to solve AGW? But there is no way to expect that yet. 

RayMartin
RayMartin

When human beings were evolving from apes, the globe was covered in plants and vegatation. Most of this has now been destroyed by humans. They would have garbled up Co2 in the atmosphere. That fact accounts for most of the increase.

TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@RayMartin Poppycock!

We have not EVER seen this much CO2!The Earth has not seen it in 800,000 years!!!  Look something up!

Volcanoes put out about 30 million tons of CO2 per year.

WE put out 30 BILLION TONS up per year!!!  And it's getting worse!

Get it?

JackWolf
JackWolf like.author.displayName 1 Like

How about if we start ignoring those in denial.  Recently, some of the top business journalists in the U.S. went on record asserting that climate change denial is a form of political posturing that is not worthy of discussion in serious reporting on economic issues. If that doesn’t lay the whole climate change denial thing to rest, then hopefully this will: The Weather Company has just endorsed the BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy) Climate Declaration, which acknowledges the scientific consensus on climate change.

DanCummings
DanCummings

Such crazy, unsubstantiated claims as are contained in your headline are based on zero accepted evidence.

Even the levels detected at Mauna Kea are unreliable. Their increase has coincided with massively increased tourism-related jet aircraft travel to Hawaii. Hence they have been juiced.

Meanwhile, more CO2 means things will grow better, faster and more efficiently. See: "Trees Using Water More Efficiently as Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Rises" from USDA http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/news/release/trees-water-atmospheric-co2



TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@DanCummings Not so,

Satellite data is consistent with surface measurements and present a fuller picture of global CO2 concentration. The next video shows global distribution of mid-tropospheric carbon dioxide. This data comes from the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) on the NASA Aqua spacecraft. Superiposed over the global map is a graph of carbon dioxide observed at the Mauna Loa observatory.

Not to mention CO2 levels are measured by hundreds of stations scattered across 66 countries which all report the same rising trend

So substantiated.

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

I see the signs! I see the change. We cannot deny the change. We must do as the saints of science teach us for they are all knowing. We have angered the mighty weather gods and now we must make a sacrifice of fire to please our poor little Mother Nature God.

JackWolf
JackWolf like.author.displayName 1 Like

@DavidNutzuki have you considered professional help?

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

I'm not the one fear mongering little kids with your Reefer Madness of climate blame. Do you have any idea how history will judge your irresponsible needless panic and CO2 death threats to billions.

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

GLOBAL WARMING MAY NOT BE MAN MADE

Dr. Larry Vardiman (scientist and physicist) of the Institue for Creation Research says:

"One possible scenario may be found in a recent series of articles by Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Marsh, cosmic ray specialists from Denmark, who have shown an indirect connection between galactic cosmic ray (GCR) intensity and global temperature.7,8,9 They are studying the influence of the Sun on the flow of GCR to Earth. The Sun's changing sunspot activity influences the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth permitting more GCR to strike the Earth during high periods of activity.

When the Sun is active, the intensity of GCR striking the Earth is increased, causing more ionization in the atmosphere, creating more carbon-14, and possibly creating more cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). This increase in CCN, in turn, appears to create more low-level clouds which cool the Earth. When the Sun is quiet the GCR intensity striking the Earth is reduced, allowing the Earth to warm. Svensmark and Marsh have shown a striking statistical correlation between sunspot activity and global cooling and warming over the past 1000 years.

The recent rise in global temperature may partially be due to current low solar activity supplemented by a recent increase in carbon dioxide concentration measured at Mauna Loa. The connection which still needs further study is the production of CCN and clouds by GCR." 

There is a good deal of science showing that global warming is not mad made. Yes, we still should have pollution controls, as we already do, but not to the extreme because it will unnecessarily hurt business.

Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION

Babu G. Ranganathan
B.A. Bible/Biology

Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

Get a life Doomers:Upon settlement of North America, Polar bears were indigenous to as far south as Minnesota but called the yellow bear (summer coat), but still the same bear.I’m a former believer for good reasons:-Science agrees it is real and happening but do not agree it WILL be a crisis.-Not one single IPCC warming is without “maybes” and “could bes”.-Science agrees comet hits are inevitable and eventual and have never said the same for climate change.-27 years of research was almost all into effects, not causes.-Science gave us pesticides and denied for decades that they were toxic and literally made environmentalism necessary in the first place.-Bush didn’t fear monger my kids with CO2 death threats but WE did?Mostly, I don’t want my grandkids explaining why I believed in this Reefer Madness of Climate Blame and why I condemned them to the greenhouse gas ovens of a climate crisis that everyone knew was a sick exaggeration.Fact: They agree it’s real but really not a crisis. If you are still determined to believe in this misery for billions of children then prove me wrong doomer.

wromney
wromney like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@DavidNutzukiYou're an idiot. Go back to school and retake remedial science, because you missed the point.

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

Get a life Doomers:

Upon settlement of North America, Polar bears were indigenous to as far south as Minnesota but called the yellow bear (summer coat), but still the same bear.

I’m a former believer for good reasons:

-Science agrees it is real and happening but do not agree it WILL be a crisis.

-Not one single IPCC warming is without “maybes” and “could bes”.

-Science agrees comet hits are inevitable and eventual and have never said the same for climate change.

-27 years of research was almost all into effects, not causes.

-Science gave us pesticides and denied for decades that they were toxic and literally made environmentalism necessary in the first place.

-Bush didn’t fear monger my kids with CO2 death threats but WE did?

Mostly, I don’t want my grandkids explaining why I believed in this Reefer Madness of Climate Blame and why I condemned them to the greenhouse gas ovens of a climate crisis that everyone knew was a sick exaggeration.

Fact: They agree it’s real but really not a crisis. If you are still determined to believe in this misery for billions of children then prove me wrong doomer.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

CO2 seems to be the popular greenhouse gas to follow, but I wonder how our production of H2O is affecting the global climate. H2O is actually a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

HudsonValleyChronic
HudsonValleyChronic

Part of what the U.S. environmental movement needs is an angrier soundtrack, not bogged down with musical baggage from old, hippy-dippy environmental campaigns. Here's a new American anthem guaranteed to stir the soul of any red-blooded environmentalist, as well as lure a few emotionally sensitive people over from the dark side. Feel free to use it.

http://biffthuringer.bandcamp.com/track/to-america

aditya12
aditya12

We humans are so stupid ... We're still fighting over who gets the Oil!!!

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

If science can say an asteroid hit is inevitable why do they say their climate crisis from Human CO2 is only still "possible" after 28 years of research? Wouldn't the ultimate crisis need the ultimate certainty otherwise it's simple fear mongering? So how close to irreversible unstoppable warming will science lead us before they say it is inevitable not just "maybe" a climate crisis? One has to have WANTED this misery to have been real!
You remaining Bible Thumping "believers" who enjoy fear mongering a climate blame crisis to our children are like sick car accident rubberneckers; you just want to watch the world burn with your childish glee.
MOVE ON:
*Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by corporations.
For 28 years science has only agreed it "COULD" be a crisis and not one IPCC warning says it WILL happen and not one IPCC warning isn't smothered in "maybes". If "maybe" is good enough to condemn us all........you are no planet lover, you just hate humanity.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@DavidNutzuki We understand the laws of physics on macroscopic objects in solar orbit far better than we understand the complex workings of climate on our planet. Given just the mass and current velocity of an object in space we can calculate its trajectory fairly accurately. Given just today's temperature and levels of CO2, predicting the climate of tomorrow / next month / next year is impossible. Even with more robust data, the system is still so complex that any kind of prediction is really difficult. This is why we cannot say with certainty that terrible things will happen with the climate of our planet. We can only say that all evidence suggests this.

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

Can U try any harder to believe in the worst crisis imaginable to actually happen, the "end of life" as we know it as your lab coats say?

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

How does 28 years of studying effects prove humans now control climate? In 28 years of research the climatologists have yet to say their CO2 catastrophic climate crisis is as certain as they can say an eventual asteroid hit is. So how close to the edge will they lead us before they say their crisis is inevitable otherwise 28 years of "maybe" proves it "won't" be a crisis.

You don't have to believe in this hell for my kids to be planet lover. IF you DID love the planet you would be glad not mad a crisis was avoided. Science never lied, you goose stepping believers did.

KatSwalwell
KatSwalwell like.author.displayName 1 Like

You're comments are ridiculous, are you just trying to post stupid stuff? Look at the evidence and read other comments. Clearly a typical American indenial on the impacts global warming is having on our climate and the problems it can cause in the future. No wonder emissions are still increasing if there are people so reluctant to believe facts

DavidNutzuki
DavidNutzuki

You need to trust and believe in something or someone to have faith in your "truth".

ZacPetit
ZacPetit like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@DavidNutzuki I accept what is happening because I believe in the evidence presented to me, not in those that present the evidence. 

Can you try any harder to deny the evidence?

TroyOwen
TroyOwen like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@DavidNutzuki I have to disagree, there are many signs that climate change is happening.

First ALL the Glaciers in the world are melting at a much faster pace than 50 years ago and we keep good track of most of them. We only have 14 if the 40+ in our own National Park at Yellowstone. If it were only "some" or just a similar number each year we may be able to blame something else, but that is not the case, it is ALL.

Second we have been tracking weather patterns for well over 100 years in the farmers almanac and more so in the last 30 years, NASA can show storms being far more powerful than 10 years ago with satellites focused on the atmosphere.

Now having said that, I think we can benefit from SOME warming, but the real fear is a runaway reaction causing the warming of the oceans and melting of the Tundra all over the world. This would (NOT maybe) release Methane from the Tundra and deep from the ocean and warm the planet where we would suffer a world economic collapse.

The Human race will survive, provided we don't kill each other all off waring over water and land. But it will be similar to the Dark Ages, for a long time. Do we really want to disregard, warnings we SEE not just hear? 

RayMartin
RayMartin

@TroyOwen @DavidNutzuki get out of that.your talking about a period of 100 years which is nothing. absolutely nothing. the trends over that period are absolutely irrelevant.

TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@RayMartin 

The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.

Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. Studying these climate data collected over many years reveal the signals of a changing climate.

And yes it is "Something" that almost EVERY Glacier is melting in the past 50 years!

What happens when they are all gone?

We have far fewer rivers! Far more deaths, many places will have no water to speak of.