Atmospheric carbon levels hit all-time high in human history


Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reach the highest on record for any calendar month during April, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s data.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography has been monitoring carbon dioxide levels using the Keeling Curve, a graph of the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere based on continuous measurements taken in Hawaii from 1958 to the present day. The measurements showed the first significant evidence of rapidly increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

As of April 2022, the average monthly carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere reached 420.23 parts per million (ppm), rising from 315.00 ppm since Keeling Curve’s launch in 1958.

The figure is likely to get higher in May, said Pieter Tans, a senior scientist in Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

Every May, carbon dioxide levels peak before plant life in the Northern Hemisphere blooms, which sucks some of the carbon out of the atmosphere and into flowers, leaves, seeds, and stems.

However, the relief is only temporary, because carbon dioxide emissions from burning coal, oil, and natural gas for transportation and electricity greatly exceed what plants can absorb, pushing greenhouse gas levels to new highs every year.

According to the NOAA, the average carbon dioxide level in May 2021 was 419.13 ppm, 1.82 ppm higher than May 2020 and 50% higher than the stable pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm.

“Carbon dioxide going up in a few decades like that is extremely unusual,” Tans added. “For example, when the Earth climbed out of the last ice age, carbon dioxide increased by about 80 parts per million and it took the Earth system, the natural system, 6,000 years. We have a much larger increase in the last few decades.”

Climate change, according to scientists, does more than just raise temperatures. Studies have shown that it exacerbates and increases the frequency of extreme weather events such as storms, wildfires, floods, and droughts, and lead to rising sea level and ocean acidification. There are also additional consequences on human health, such as heat deaths and increased pollen.

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