Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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At 11,000 feet up, scientists find Earth broke a scary record

In a federal research laboratory located 3,397 meters (11,135 feet) high, American scientists measured a major record.

Because of its remoteness in the Pacific Ocean, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory, located high above Hawaii, is tasked with taking daily pollution-free atmospheric measurements. On June 6, NOAA revealed evidence that the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide is “accumulating in the atmosphere faster than ever, accelerating in a steep rise to levels far exceeding those experienced during human existence.” “.

In May of this year, atmospheric CO2 levels reached 427 parts per million, or ppm, an increase of nearly 3 ppm since last May (CO2 levels annually peak in May, due to natural global fluctuations). . What’s more, combining the increases from 2022 results in the largest two-year CO2 jump on record.

The laboratory’s continuous record shows a clear picture of how the atmosphere has changed since the late 1950s. However, when added to much older air samples taken from air pockets preserved in ancient ice cores in Antarctica and Greenland, along with other environmental observations, the changes that have occurred over the past 150 years are momentous. Atmospheric CO2 is currently skyrocketing.

“Not only is CO2 now at the highest level in millions of years, it is also rising faster than ever,” Ralph Keeling, director of the Scripps CO2 Program who manages the Earth’s observing program, said in a statement. atmosphere. “Each year a higher peak is reached due to the burning of fossil fuels, which releases pollution in the form of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Fossil fuel pollution continues to accumulate, much like garbage in a landfill.”

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You can imagine that this considerable change would have an impact. Yes, CO2 is considered a “trace gas” in our atmosphere, which is dominated by nitrogen and oxygen. But it is common, in our physical reality, for low concentrations of things to have enormous impacts.

“Over the past year, we have experienced the hottest year on record, the highest ocean temperatures on record, and a seemingly endless series of heat waves, droughts, floods, wildfires, and storms,” ​​said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad. in the ad. . This is part of a blatant trend towards climate change. “2023 was Earth’s warmest year since modern records began around 1880, and the last 10 consecutive years have been the 10 warmest on record,” NASA noted.

The first graph below shows atmospheric CO2 levels continually rising since 1958. The second puts this recent increase in perspective compared to the last 800,000 years.

A NOAA graph showing the monthly average of carbon dioxide measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory since 1958.

A NOAA graph showing the monthly average of carbon dioxide measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory since 1958.
Credit: NOAA Global Monitoring Laboratory

Earth's atmospheric CO2 levels over the last 800,000 years.

Earth’s atmospheric CO2 levels over the last 800,000 years.
Credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography

But most importantly, civilization is not inherently doomed, climate scientists emphasize. We are not unfortunate; We have energy options that can limit the worst consequences of climate change, specifically by significantly limiting the entry of CO2 into the atmosphere.

For now, this monitoring station, and others, will continue to record the harsh atmospheric events.

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