Carbon Dioxide Levels Just Hit Their Highest Point In 800,000 Years
The amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has exceeded 402 parts per million (ppm) during the past two days of observations, which is higher than at any time in at least the past 800,000 years, according to readings from monitoring equipment on a mountaintop in Hawaii.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) the most common and most important of the human-produced greenhouse gases, because it is released from so many sources around the world (like factories, cars, airplanes and power plants) and because it can remain in the atmosphere for centuries, adding to global warming for many human lifetimes.
The CO2 recordings were made at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Mauna Loa Observatory, which lies about two miles above sea level near the volcano that shares its name on the island of Hawaii.
Once emitted, a single molecule of carbon dioxide can remain aloft for hundreds of years, which means that the effects of today’s industrial activities will be felt for the next several centuries, if not thousands of years. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, such as methane, warm the planet by absorbing and redirecting outgoing solar radiation that would otherwise escape back into space.
In 2013, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide briefly hit 400 ppm for the first time in mid-May, but this year that symbolic threshold has been crossed even earlier. This means it is more likely that the annual peak, which typically occurs in mid-to-late May, will climb further above 400 ppm for the first time.
Although crossing above 400 ppm is largely a symbolic milestone, scientific research indicates that the higher that carbon dioxide concentrations get, the more global temperatures will increase, resulting in a wide range of damaging effects. These impacts will range from global sea level rise to a heightened risk of heat waves, severe droughts and floods, according to a recently released comprehensive assessment of climate science produced by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
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