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Greenhouse Gas Levels Approach ‘Worrisome’ Milestone

Above: Warming temperatures are expected to cause sea levels to rise by as much as 3 feet over the next few decades.

Aired 4/24/13 on KPBS News.

Greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing at a steep rate in the Earth's atmosphere and approaching a troubling new milestone: The heat-trapping gas could reach sustained levels of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide by next month.

Greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) is increasing at a steep rate in the Earth's atmosphere and approaching a troubling new milestone: The heat-trapping gas could reach sustained levels of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide by next month.

Scripps Institution Of Oceanography

The Keeling Curve, a daily record of atmospheric carbon dioxide from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Greenhouse gas is the main global warming pollutant caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography researcher Ralph Keeling is tracking daily CO2 measurements at remote locations throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The primary site is Mauna Loa, Hawaii. There, he's using the Keeling Curve founded by his late father, Charles David (Dave) Keeling, a world-leading authority on atmospheric greenhouse gas accumulation and Scripps climate science pioneer.

Measurements at Mauna Loa comprise the longest continuous record of CO2 in the world, starting from 316 ppm in March 1958.

Ralph Keeling said CO2 levels have never elevated beyond 300 parts per million in the last 800,000 years. He said the approaching 400 mark is expected, but "a bit worrisome."

"I think it will be a point that some people will look back on and say, 'Oh I remember when it crossed 400 back in the day,'” Keeling said.

When CO2 rises, the warming potential increases, Keeling added.

"It takes a while for the climate to catch up to the CO2 level," said Keeling. There’s a lot of lag in the climate system, so even if we could keep CO2 without rising beyond 400, we’d still have some significant additional climate changes in store."

Keeling said it’s increasingly doubtful that warming temperatures can be limited to the 2-degree Celsius threshold to avoid climate change’s catastrophic effects, like rising sea levels, droughts, floods and heatwaves.

"I think the opportunity to achieve that was more or less in the past decade and now it's probably not really realistic that we'll get there," said Keeling.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography is providing a website, keelingcurve.ucsd.edu, to offer daily updates on CO2 levels and to provide background information about how CO2 is measured, the history of the Keeling Curve, and resources from other organizations on the current state of climate. An accompanying Twitter feed, @keeling_curve, also provides followers with the most recent Keeling Curve CO2 reading in a daily tweet.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 24, 2013 at 10:19 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

The multi-TRILLION dollar pollution-gas-corporate hack industrial complex that year-after-year bullies their way into destroying our planet by paying-off just enough people to continue doing the evil they are doing will simply churn more money into their propaganda feeders to drown out this frighteningly alarming statistic.

It's sad, but it's reality.

I'm not sure how many more generations our planet will realistically be able to sustain human life, at least optimal conditions for human life.

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Avatar for user 'bailarin'

bailarin | April 24, 2013 at 11:01 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

I was watching a documentary on global warming and a spokesman for the Tea Party said that if they were wrong about greenhouse gas as not the main reason for global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline they can just apologize and say they are sorry for their mistake.

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Avatar for user 'jackkshu'

jackkshu | April 24, 2013 at 5:16 p.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

San Diego, home of R. Keeling, still has a regional transportation and land use plan which have GHG emissions exceeding State goals. Shame on our elected officials for not acting more responsibly.

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Avatar for user 'RegularChristian'

RegularChristian | April 25, 2013 at 8:07 a.m. ― 1 year, 3 months ago

I bought my hybrid car when gas was about $2.50 a gallon, boosting my fuel efficiency to over 35 MPG.

I calculated then that it would take about 4.2 years for the savings in gas to pay for the hybrid components (using a projected gas price of $3.50 a gallon). With gas prices rising so steeply and so quickly I actually paid for the hybrid components in a little over 3 years. So now all the savings in gas (about $2,000 a year at these prices) mean, essentially, money in the bank.

There are also a lot of small and medium sized cars with regular gas motors (i.,e, no not hybrids gas electric) that get over 30 MPG.

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