Earth’s atmosphere is getting warmer, we all know it, thanks to Global Warming. However, new research claims that the situation could actually be even worse than what many believe. According to the latest data, carbon dioxide levels or the CO2 concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere is well beyond the acceptable threshold.
According to data from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, CO2 concentration last month in Earth’s atmosphere exceeded an average of 410 parts per million (ppm) across the entire month. This is the first time since humans have been monitoring the climate that the CO2 monthly average has exceeded the acceptable threshold.
“It puts us closer to some targets we don’t really want to get to, like getting over 450 or 500 ppm. That’s pretty much dangerous territory,” said Ralph Keeling, head of the CO2 program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Speaking to The Washington Post, Keeling said that the rate at which CO2 concentration is growing in the atmosphere has been faster in the last decade or so than in the 2000s.
Even during the Industrial Revolution, the carbon dioxide levels never went above 300ppm, said the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. However, the rise in the carbon dioxide levels must not come as a surprise. The Keeling Curve, which shows the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, has been showing a consistent rise in CO2 levels for decades.
Measuring the CO2 concentration using the Keeling Curve started in 1958. Not only the carbon dioxide levels breached the threshold, but April was also the first month when the Keeling Curve recorded a 30% rise in the CO2 concentration globally. The carbon dioxide level breached the 400 parts per million mark for the first time in 2013.
Further, scientists have used ice cores containing ancient air bubbles to get the data on the CO2 levels from the last 800,000 years. According to Scripps, this data showed that carbon dioxide levels fluctuated in the past as well, but it never went above the 300 parts per million before the Industrial Revolution.
Monitoring CO2 levels is important because, like all greenhouse gases, it absorbs the heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The primary reason for the rise in the CO2 levels is the burning of fossil fuels, waste and other products. Plants do relieve the atmosphere from CO2 by absorbing it, but continuous deforestation has left the Earth with fewer plants.
According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, the ocean also absorbs CO2, but it can only take in the greenhouse gases up to a certain point. Once it reaches that point, ocean circulation, which is a process for distributing heat, would stop. This, in turn, would mean more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
As a scientist, what concerns me the most is what this continued rise actually means: that we are continuing full speed ahead with an unprecedented experiment with our planet, the only home we have. https://t.co/DbBrNOCVIo
— Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) May 4, 2018
Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, believes that the CO2 level breaching another threshold is not the most concerning factor. Rather, the continued rise of carbon dioxide is more troubling as this means that the human activities that are a danger to the Earth’s atmosphere are still going at full steam, according to Tech Times.
In 2017, the World Meteorological Organization said the last time the CO2 concentration exceeded the 400ppm natural variability was hundreds of thousands of years ago, in the mid-Pliocene era (more than 3 million years ago). At the time, the average surface temperatures were two degrees more than today, and “ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica melted and even parts of East Antarctica’s ice retreated, causing the sea level to rise 10-20m higher than that today,” said the WMO.
According to a recent federal climate science report, the CO2 concentration of 400 parts per million in the Pliocene era “sustained over long periods of time, whereas today the global CO2 concentration is increasing rapidly.” This could mean that Pliocene-like conditions may be just decades and centuries ahead of us.
Moving further back in the Miocene era (some 14 million and 23 million years ago), the CO2 levels were believed to be around 500 parts per million. According to scientists, Antarctica during that period lost tens of meters of ice to match the rise in the sea-level, something similar to the Pliocene.
During the Eocene-Oligocene era (about 34 million years ago), Antarctica probably had no ice at all. At the time, the carbon dioxide concentrations were 750 parts per million. All this data helps the scientists to understand the relationship between temperatures, sea levels and carbon dioxide levels, and also possibly predict how the rise in the CO2 levels could push the Earth back to the Pliocene era, provided the trend continues.