Global carbon dioxide in atmosphere passes milestone level
Two CO2 monitoring stations high on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa are run by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and provide the global benchmark measurement. Data released on Friday shows the daily average has passed 400ppm for the first time in its half century of recording. The level peaks in May each year as the CO2 released by decaying vegetation is taken up by renewed plant growth in the northern hemisphere, where the bulk of plants grow.
Analysis of fossil air trapped in ancient ice and other data indicate that this level has not been seen on Earth for 3-5 million years, a period called the Pliocene. At that time, global average temperatures were 3 or 4C higher than today’s and 8C warmer at the poles. Reef corals suffered a major extinction while forests grew up to the northern edge of the Arctic Ocean, a region which is today bare tundra.
“I think it is likely that all these ecosystem changes could recur,” said Richard Norris, a colleague of Keeling’s at Scripps. The Earth’s climate system takes time to adjust to the increased heat being trapped by high greenhouse levels and it may take hundreds of years for the great ice caps in Antarctica and Greenland to melt to the small size of the Pliocence and sea level far above many of the world’s major cities.
But the extreme speed at which CO2 in now rising – perhaps 75 times faster than in pre-industrial time – has never been seen in geological records and some effects of climate change are already being seen, with extreme heatwaves and flooding now more likely. Recent wet and cold summer weather in Europe has been linked to changes in the high level jetstream winds, in turn linked to the rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic, which shrank to its lowest recorded level in September.
Oh hey so that’s massively suboptimal. Note that the IPCC level for absolute long-term CO2 maximum target is 450 ppm, which at this rate we’re going to hit around 2025 or so. And even that limit (which, again, we’re going to pass in the foreseeable future) means serious loss of coastline, heatwaves, flooding, and so on. Like, even at current CO2 levels we’re headed for year-round ice-free poles. And that kind of change is impossible to reverse on a meaningful timescale.
TL;DR we’ve effed up at this point climate change means big bad permanent changes within our lifetimes.