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Carbon dioxide levels in atmosphere pass troubling critical milestone

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Energy producing factories emitting polluting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere

Graph showing monthly mean carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory, HawaiiScientists announced this week that the level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached a level not seen on earth for a long time, surpassing 400 parts per million (0.000400 mole), a dire milestone. The best available evidence suggests the amount of carbon dioxide gas in the air has not been this high for at least 3-5 million years, during the Pliocene Epoch, where temperatures were 5 to 7 degrees warmer than today, with seas tens of feet higher.  A monitoring station in Hawaii recorded the carbon dioxide concentrations of 400 parts per million on Friday, dramatically up from the 316 parts per million recorded when the station made its first measurements in 1958. The monitor, high atop the Mauna Loa volcano, offers the longest-running record of atmospheric carbon dioxide measured directly from the air.

Carbon dioxide is a primary greenhouse gas, efficient at trapping heat from the sun. The colorless gas is released from power plants and vehicles as they burn coal, oil and gas.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) manager Pieter Trans noted:

“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem.”

Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, added that a continuing rise could be catastrophic.

Estimates made from the 1700’s show atmospheric carbon dioxide at about 270 parts per million — about 40 percent lower than today. Air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice cores provide hard proof and show that, in the past 800,000 years, airborne concentrations remained lower than 400 parts per million.

China is now the largest emitter of greenhouse gases but experts say the United States is more responsible than any other county for the high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Below is a disturbing graph showing all carbon dioxide measurements since they began at the Mauna Loa Observatory (the red line fluctuates due to seasonal variations).

Monthly mean atmospheric carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa Observatory, Hawaii

Sources: NOAA
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