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Carbon Dioxide Levels Set New Record With Concentrations Averaging Over 410 Parts Per Million

May 05, 2018 06:57 AM EDT
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Greenhouse Gases
The planet reaches a sobering milestone as the average carbon dioxide concentrations soar higher than they've ever been. Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas heating up the planet.
(Photo : David McNew | Getty Images)

April marked a worrying development for the environment as the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit its highest average ever recorded.

Making History In Carbon Dioxide

It's the first time in recorded history that the carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere averaged over 410 parts per million (ppm).

A report from University of California San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography reveals that the Keeling Curve measurement series from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii put the month's average CO2 concentration at 410.31 ppm.

The number marks a 30 percent increase in the global atmosphere's carbon dioxide concentration since the Keeling Curve began in 1958. Before the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels never exceeded 300 ppm in 800,000 years despite fluctuating throughout the different millennia.

"We keep burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide keeps building up in the air," Ralph Keeling, a geochemist and the son of the late Keeling Curve creator Charles David Keeling, says in the report. "It's essentially as simple as that."

Keeling is director of the Scripps CO2 Program.

Katharine Hayhoe, climate scientist, took to Twitter to express her dismay at the rising carbon dioxide levels.

"As a scientist, what concerns me the most is what this continued rise actually means: that we are continuing full speed ahead with an unprecedented experiment with our planet, the only home we have," she wrote.

Why It's Important

Greenhouse gases trap solar radiation within the atmosphere, contributing to heating up the planet's temperature. Among these gases, carbon dioxide is the most rampant due to the continuous burning of fossil fuels.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that while carbon dioxide absorbs less heat than other greenhouse gases, it is also a lot more abundant and lasts in the atmosphere far longer than the rest. It also has a marked effect on the ocean, lowering the water's pH level and increasing acidity, which is harmful to a number of marine creatures.

The effects of the rising carbon dioxide concentrations are alarming, from melted ice caps and rising sea levels to the destruction of marine environments.

"We probably have to go back 5 to 10 million years at least to find a time when CO2 levels were naturally that high," Michael Mann, climate scientist from Penn State University, said. "So we are indeed playing an unprecedented, uncontrolled experiment with the one planet in the universe we know that can support life."

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