Home > climate change, Earth science > 2015 saw record increase in atmospheric CO2 levels, NOAA says

2015 saw record increase in atmospheric CO2 levels, NOAA says

Mauna Loa observatory - courtesy NOAA, photo by Forrest Mims III

NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory has been gathering climate data since the 1950s. Photo courtesy NOAA, photo by Forrest Mims III.

Worldwide emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide increased by an unprecedented amount last year, according to the federal agency that monitors Earth’s climate.

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that the atmospheric concentration of CO2 reached 402.59 parts per million in February 2016. That was a jump of 3.05 parts per million, the largest in a 56 year-long history of record-keeping.

Confirmation of the data was provided by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego. However, researchers with that institution’s Scripps CO2 Group said that atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide reached 404.16 parts per million last month.

The annual increase was greater than two parts per million for the fourth straight year.

“Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years,” Pieter Tans, a scientist at NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Reference Network, said. “It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”

Keeling Curve - courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The Keeling curve shows the level of carbon dioxide, relative to other gases, in the atmosphere. Graphic courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

It has been about more than ten thousand years since Earth last experienced such a rapid increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations. Between 17,000 and 11,000 years ago the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere rose by 80 parts per million.

It is now rising at a pace 200 times faster than that, Tans said.

carbon dioxide levels at Mauna Loa, 2012-

This graph shows the past four complete years and the current year of measurement, taken at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. The dashed red line with diamond symbols represents the monthly mean values, centered on the middle of each month. The black line with the square symbols represents the same, after correction for the average seasonal cycle. Graphic courtesy NOAA.

NOAA said in a statement that the current El Niño event is contributing to the CO2 increase, but that fossil fuel combustion remains the overwhelming driver of greenhouse gas accumulation in the atmosphere.




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