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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Record early CO2 above 400 ppm at Mauna Loa, report Boulder scientists

Boulder scientists report record-early high CO2 readings at key site

400 parts per million at Mauna Loa reached two months ahead of 2013

by Charlie Brennan, Daily Camera - Boulder News, March 22, 2014

Carbon dioxide readings at Mauna Loa Observatory:
Sunday: 400.13 ppm
Monday: 401.12 ppm
Tuesday: 401.18 ppm
Wednesday: 401.28 ppm
Thursday: 400.87 ppm
More info:
Carbon dioxide levels at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii and analyzed in Boulder have reached a disturbing benchmark earlier than last year and have done so for several days running, scientists said.
The readings hit 400 parts per million for CO2 every day from Sunday through Thursday. That is a level recorded at that observatory for the first time only last year — and in 2013, it was not reached until May 19.
The levels of CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere move in seasonal swings, typically peaking in May and hitting their low point in September.
"Each year it creeps up," said Jim Butler, director of the global monitoring division at NOAA.
"Eventually, we'll see where it isn't below 400 parts per million anywhere in the world. We're on our way to doing that."
Pieter Tans, chief scientist in NOAA's global monitoring division, said, "This problem could become much worse. The climate change we see at this point is just beginning."
Mauna Loa has been a premier atmospheric research facility, continuously monitoring and collecting data related to atmospheric change since the 1950s. The undisturbed air, remote location and minimal influences of vegetation and human activity there are considered ideal for monitoring particulates in the atmosphere that can cause climate change.
Asked if seeing such numbers on carbon dioxide emissions was a warning bell, Butler said it is — but it is one that had previously been rung.
"It's not particularly a warning bell any more than it was last year," Butler said. "I think 400 ppm just says we're not doing anything to change the increase in CO2. Last year was a warning bell. It's always a warning bell."
Patricia Lang, who works with carbon cycle greenhouse gases at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, measures gas containers
Patricia Lang, who works with carbon cycle greenhouse gases at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, measures gas containers Friday. NOAA has been measuring carbon dioxide levels from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii that are consistently high. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)
He said it is not, however, necessarily a so-called tipping point — because scientists don't yet know where the tipping point is. Carbon dioxide concentrations have risen about 120 ppm from pre-Industrial Age levels, with 90 percent of that increase coming in just the last century.
The Mauna Loa observatory, on the island of Hawaii, is part of a global network of about 65 data collection points utilized by NOAA from the Arctic Circle to the South Pole, including four fully equipped baseline observatories. Readings are registered on site, but 2.2-liter and pressurized 0.7-liter flasks are also shipped directly to NOAA in Boulder for analysis on a weekly basis.
Greenhouse gases being screened for in the testing include carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, nitrous oxide, surface and stratospheric ozone, and halogenated compounds including CFC replacements, hydrocarbons, sulfur gases, aerosols, and solar and infrared radiation.
Butler said readings from across the Earth show that the presence of CO2 is steadily growing by about 2.1 ppm each year. In the 1960s, he said, the annual global average growth was lower, about 0.7 ppm per year.
Sites in the Arctic Circle registered CO2 of 400 ppm or higher a year before Mauna Loa reached that level last May. Butler said the South Pole should also reach that level in a few years.
"It's going up faster," Butler said. "If we want to stabilize carbon dioxide, we have to be reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent. That would stabilize carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, where it is now."
But Butler is not optimistic the trend will be reversed.
"I've been watching for decades, and I don't see any changes in behavior, worldwide," he said. The drivers of climate change continue unabated in the developing world, he said, and he doesn't see options to fossil fuels, such as solar and wind power development, and utility companies' deployment of smart grids, becoming a significant enough factor quickly enough to reverse the trend.
"Those would be good things to do. But we're not doing it," Butler said. "I expect to see CO2 levels keep rising until changes are made."
Tans agreed, saying, "CO2 is still increasing at a record rate, and thereby committing the Earth to additional climate change in the near future."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327

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