Friday, May 8, 2015

NOAA: CO2 reaches benchmark level

Time now again for Science Friday.

Yet another sobering announcement in regard to climate change.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released findings that in March of 2015, the monthly global average concentration of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time. Representatives of the agency are calling this a "significant milestone."

“This marks the fact that humans burning fossil fuels have caused global carbon dioxide concentrations to rise more than 120 parts per million since pre-industrial times,” said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. “Half of that rise has occurred since 1980.”

In other words, there has never been a greater concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere since measurements began.

Now and then, a common question that comes in response to this is "how do they know?" Normally I support such skepticism, but there is an undertone that typically accompanies the query, one that implies that climate scientists are in a room somewhere making these things up on a ouija board. While that might be fun to watch, the true method is actually far more interesting to me. NOAA collects air samples from the decks of cargo ships, beaches of remote islands, and other locations around the world. The samples get collected from these places due to the fact that our atmosphere actually tends to average out greenhouse gas concentrations (due to both natural and human causes) on its own. The remote locations mentioned give a truer global average.

The release for the study gives even more cause for concern and perhaps even dulls the slight glint of optimism I offered on Earth Day. To halt the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we would need to cut fossil fuel emissions by 80% worldwide. I think we all know that's not going to happen. Besides even if we committed such a herculean feat, it would still take a considerable amount of time for the excess CO2 to be reabsorbed by the Earth. Yes, contrary to what denialists would have you think, that CO2 "which is good for plants" can't be soaked back in at a rate even close to how fast our burning of fossil fuels spits it into the atmosphere. It could always go into the ocean, I us a whole new set of problems, namely the change in acidity of the seas.

Temperatures will continue to rise. Extreme weather events will continue. Nothing is going to happen until we decide to make a change in how we consume fuels and what type of fuels we consume. I realize, yes, that I beat you all about on this topic until we're logy to the point of ridiculousness.

But you know what? It's kinda important.

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