NOAA Reports Record CO2 Levels

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This graph depicts the last four complete years of the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide record plus the current year. The dashed red lines represent the monthly mean values, centered on the middle of each month. The black lines represent the same, after correction for the average seasonal cycle. Credit: NOAA

This graph depicts the last four complete years of the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide record plus the current year. The dashed red lines represent the monthly mean values, centered on the middle of each month. The black lines represent the same, after correction for the average seasonal cycle. Credit: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the largest monthly recording of carbon monoxide ever at 417.1 parts-per-million at the Mauna Loa observatory.

This year’s peak value was 2.4 parts per million (ppm) higher than the 2019 peak of 414.7 ppm recorded in May 2019, according to scientists from NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

“Progress in emissions reductions is not visible in the CO2 record,” said Pieter Tans, senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, in a statement issued Thursday. ”We continue to commit our planet — for centuries or longer — to more global heating, sea level rise, and extreme weather events every year.” If humans were to suddenly stop emitting CO2, it would take thousands of years for our CO2 emissions so far to be absorbed into the deep ocean and atmospheric CO2 to return to pre-industrial levels.”

Only about one percent of trapped heat has stayed in the atmosphere, but it’s had a huge effect, warming up the air by Earth’s surface by about 1°F (0.6°C) on average over the past two centuries, according to National Geographic.

Most — about 90 percent — of the rest is absorbed into oceans, translating to a temperature increase of a little more than 1 degree Fahrenheit, on average, over the past century.

That increasing warming has taken tolls on marine life and storm intensity, for example.

The record CO2 reading announced by NOAA Thursday may surprise some since it coincided with the covid-19 pandemic and a massive slowdown in emissions from all sources.

“People may be surprised to hear that the response to the coronavirus outbreak hasn’t done more to influence CO2 levels,” said geochemist Ralph Keeling, who runs the Scripps Oceanography program at Mauna Loa. “But the buildup of CO2 is a bit like trash in a landfill. As we keep emitting, it keeps piling up. The crisis has slowed emissions, but not enough to show up perceptibly at Mauna Loa. What will matter much more is the trajectory we take coming out of this situation.” 

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