The year 2014 will be remembered by scientists as one of the most negative in the history of climate change, as the levels of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere went through the roof of 400 parts per million (ppm), reaching the highest peak ever recorded since the beginning of measurements.
The figure was revealed by Ralph Keeling, the head of the carbon monitoring program at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego. Mr. Keeling inherited the position from his father who set up the program back in 1958. Since then, the Institute has been continuously monitoring the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, taking daily measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory at 11,141 feet on a volcano in Hawaii.
Carbon Dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere and allows the Earth’s carbon cycle, or the circulation and exchange of Carbon among the atmosphere and plants, oceans, animas and soil. CO2 is a so-called greenhouse gas in that it tends to trap heat in the atmosphere, preventing its loss in the space and thus facilitating the rise temperatures on our planet.
Despite predating the existence of humanity, there is widespread evidence that the presence of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased more rapidly since the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1750 and has been accelerating of late. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that just between 1990 and 2011, CO2 emissions in the U.S. have risen by 10 per cent.
When Keeling’s father, Charles, started measurements in 1958 the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were below 320 ppm. His famous Keeling’s curve reveals a steep rise over the past decades with seasonal variations mostly occurring during the month of May, when oceans and blossoming plants absorb more of the gas. This year, however, the benchmark barrier of 400 ppm has been crossed repeatedly, eventually reaching the highest peak ever recorded of 401,6 ppm on March 12.
According to Ralph Keeling, it is likely that the peak level will remain above 400 for few more months and “it’s just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever.”
While 400 ppm is regarded by many as a largely symbolic value, it does however represents a threshold that according to the majority of scientists provides an unassailable proof for the largely anthropogenic nature of climate change.
Donald Wuebbles, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois and one of the lead authors of the U.N. latest report of climate change, told CNN that the current concentration of CO2 has not been so high in several million years. According to the expert, if humanity does not reduce CO2 emissions immediately, the figure could rise up to 600 by the end of the century, reaching the level “of the age of dinosaurs, and that we know was a much warmer world.”
Higher CO2 concentration in the atmosphere could have immediate effects on sea levels around globe by speeding up the melting of polar ice. This scenario seems to be already underway, since one of Greenland’s most stable glaciers has retreated over 12 miles in only a decade, according a study published only a week ago on Natural Climate Change.
In a report issued last September the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change showed increasing evidence that ice sheet and glaciers in the Artic Sea are thinning and that permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere is thawing , following a rise by 0.6 degrees Celsius in global temperature since 1950.
The presence of the highest level ever recorded of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere seems to be consistent with the data observed by satellites, showing an alarming rise in sea levels that might reach a dangerous peak before the end of this century and cause a sizeble disappearance of coastal areas as well as more intense storms and droughts.
By Stefano Salustri