Atmospheric CO2 surges again in 2016

Even with fossil fuel emissions starting to level off, greenhouse gases are increasing

CO2 levels are stairstepping to new record highs.

Staff Report

Despite the good intentions of the 134 countries that have ratified the Paris climate agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is still increasing at a record pace. For the second year in a row, instruments at  NOAA’s Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory showed CO2 increasing by 3 parts per million in 2016.

The two-year, 6-ppm surge between 2015 and 2017 is unprecedented in the observatory’s 59-year record and marked the fifth year in a row that CO2 increased by 2 ppm or more, according to Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

Tans said, “The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last Ice Age. This is a real shock to the atmosphere.”

Globally averaged CO2 levels passed 400 ppm in 2015 — a 43-percent increase over pre-industrial levels. In February 2017, the CO2 levels at Mauna Loa had already climbed to 406.42 ppm.

NOAA has measured CO2 on site at the Mauna Loa observatory since 1974. To ensure accuracy, air samples from the mountaintop research site in Hawaii are shipped to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, for verification. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which first began sampling CO2 at Mauna Loa in 1956, also takes independent measurements onsite.

Emissions from fossil-fuel consumption have remained at historically high levels since 2011 and are the primary reason atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing at a dramatic rate, Tans said. This high growth rate of CO2 is also being observed at some 40 other sites in NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

Rising CO2 means more heat being trapped in the Earth’s climate system, which means more melting ice and sea level rise, along with many other consequences. Check out a list of Summit Voice stories about the impacts of rising CO2 here.



3 thoughts on “Atmospheric CO2 surges again in 2016

  1. Atmospheric carbon dioxide increasing at a higher rate combined with a leveling off of fossil fuel use suggests that there are significant sources of carbon dioxide other than fossil fuel use. There has also been a leveling off of temperature increase, suggesting that the linkage between temperature and carbon dioxide is different from that assumed by many climate-change models.

    Other factors that affect atmospheric carbon dioxide and surface temperatures include changes in agricultural practice. Specific factors include more irrigation, more use of fertilizers, replacing forest with crops, etc. There are also industrial practices that directly affect the amount of water vapor in the air — increasing both temperature and the rate at which heat can flow from warm regions to cold regions.

    1. This story is about emissions from power production. There are many other fossil fuel sources for CO2 and it’s completely clear that fossil fuel burning is the primary cause for the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Suggesting anything else is simply a lie.

  2. The vulcanism is active again on the island. Is it possible that the spike is partly caused by emissions from that?

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