06. CO2 Changing?

Is the Atmosphere Really Changing?

Findings from Mauna Loa and Beyond - a java applet that uses CO2 concentration monitoring data from around the world with graphing tools built in. Human-caused Sources of Carbon Dioxide - a flash program that allows exploration of various potential sources of Carbon dioxide. 2010

2014-09-21. Global Rise Reported in 2013 Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Excerpt: Global emissions of greenhouse gases jumped 2.3 percent in 2013 to record levels, scientists reported Sunday, in the latest indication that the world remains far off track in its efforts to control global warming. The emissions growth last year was a bit slower than the average growth rate of 2.5 percent over the past decade, and much of the dip was caused by an economic slowdown in China, which is the world’s single largest source of emissions.... In the United States, emissions rose 2.9 percent, after declining in recent years. The new numbers, reported by a tracking initiative called the Global Carbon Project and published in the journal Nature Geoscience, came on the eve of a United Nations summit meeting meant to harness fresh political ambition in tackling climate change. ...The nations of the world have agreed to try to limit the warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, which would require that emissions slow down and then largely stop in the next 30 years or so. If they continue on their present course through the century, scientists say, the earth could warm by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial level, which would likely be incompatible with human civilization in its current form.... By Justin Gillis, The New York Times.

2014-09-09. CO2 levels in atmosphere rising at dramatically faster rate, U.N. report warns. For GSS Climate Change chapter 6. Excerpt: ...Concentrations of nearly all the major greenhouse gases reached historic highs in 2013, reflecting ...a diminishing ability of the world’s oceans and plant life to soak up the excess carbon put into the atmosphere by humans, according to data released early Tuesday by the United Nations’ meteorological advisory body. The latest figures from the World Meteorological Organization’s monitoring network are considered particularly significant because they reflect not only the amount of carbon pumped into the air by humans, but also the complex interaction between man-made gases and the natural world. Historically, about half of the pollution from human sources has been absorbed by the oceans and by terrestrial plants, preventing temperatures from rising as quickly as they otherwise would, scientists say. “If the oceans and the biosphere cannot absorb as much carbon, the effect on the atmosphere could be much worse,” said Oksana Tarasova, a scientist and chief of the WMO’s Global Atmospheric Watch program, which collects data from 125 monitoring stations worldwide.  ...Global concentrations of methane — a byproduct of farming and fossil-fuel extraction, as well as numerous natural processes — are now 2.5 times as high as they were at the start of the industrial age, in the mid-18th century, the report said. The organization’s annual report included, for the first time, figures on the increasing acidification of the oceans stemming from higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. ...the rate of acidification is now “unprecedented, at least over the past 300,000 years,” the WMO said. ...In an indirect way, the acidification of seawater also exacerbates climate change: The oceans over time become less capable of absorbing carbon from the air, allowing more of the greenhouse gas to accumulate in the atmosphere, the report said.... By Joby Warrick, Washington Post.

2013-05-09. Carbon dioxide passes symbolic mark   BBC News. Excerpt: ...Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have broken through a symbolic mark. Daily measurements of CO2 at a US government agency lab on Hawaii have topped 400 parts per million for the first time. The station, which sits on the Mauna Loa volcano, feeds its numbers into a continuous record of the concentration of the gas stretching back to 1958. The last time CO2 was regularly above 400ppm was three to five million years ago - before modern humans existed. Scientists say the climate back then was also considerably warmer than it is today. ...The usual trend seen at the volcano is for the CO2 concentration to rise in winter months and then to fall back as the northern hemisphere growing season kicks in. Forests and other vegetation pull some of the gas out of the atmosphere. This means the number can be expected to decline by a few ppm below 400 in the coming weeks. But the long-term trend is upwards....  See also New York Times article.

2011 November 3. Greenhouse gases rise by record amount.  Associated Press via The Guardian.  Excerpt: The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has jumped by a record amount, according to the US department of energy, a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.
The figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago….
…The world pumped about 564m more tons (512m metric tons) of carbon into the air in 2010 than it did in 2009, an increase of 6%. That amount of extra pollution eclipses the individual emissions of all but three countries, China, the US and India, the world's top producers of greenhouse gases….

2011 October. IEA releases latest statistics on global CO2 emissions.  International Energy Agency.  Report Description: How much CO2 are countries emitting? Where is it coming from?
In the lead-up to the UN climate negotiations in Durban, the latest information on the level and growth of CO2 emissions, their source and geographic distribution will be essential to lay the foundation for a global agreement. To provide input to and support for the UN process the IEA is making available for free download the "Highlights" version of CO2 Emissions from Fuel Combustion….

This annual publication contains:
  • estimates of CO2 emissions by country from 1971 to 2009
  • selected indicators such as CO2/ GDP, CO2/ capita, CO2/ TPES and CO2/ kWh
  • CO2 emissions from international marine and aviation bunkers, and other relevant information
2010 December 21. A Scientist, His Work, and a Climate Reckoning. By Justin Gillis, NYTimes. Excerpt: MAUNA LOA OBSERVATORY, Hawaii — Two gray machines sit inside a pair of utilitarian buildings here, sniffing the fresh breezes that blow across thousands of miles of ocean....
...The first machine of this type was installed on Mauna Loa in the 1950s at the behest of Charles David Keeling, a scientist from San Diego. His resulting discovery, of the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, transformed the scientific understanding of humanity’s relationship with the earth. A graph of his findings is inscribed on a wall in Washington as one of the great achievements of modern science.
Yet, five years after Dr. Keeling’s death, his discovery is a focus not of celebration but of conflict. It has become the touchstone of a worldwide political debate over global warming...

2009 September 11. At AAAS Pacific Division Meeting, Researchers Detail Mounting Perils for San Francisco Bay. By Edward W. Lempinen, AAAS News. Excerpt: ...during a day-long symposium at the AAAS Pacific Division annual meeting, ...researchers described a new generation of challenges that imperil the Bay—the continuing loss of native species, incursions by non-native species, and rising concentrations of fire retardants and other chemicals.
The overarching challenge, some said, may be Earth's changing climate, which could raise Bay water levels by four feet or more by the end of the century. Even a smaller rise in the water level could inundate thousands of acres of low-lying developed areas on shore, damage or submerge sensitive tidal marshes that harbor endangered wildlife, and force the expenditure of billions of dollars for protective levees.
...Decreased sediment, increased phytoplankton, reduced carbon dioxide—researchers see these trends as evidence that the fundamental chemistry of the San Francisco Bay is turning less hospitable to its historic diversity of plant and animal life....
But an array of trends make understanding elusive and Bay protection exceedingly difficult.
Where great progress has been made in reducing sewage discharges and the concentration of many heavy metals, researchers have come to understand the risk posed by other contaminants.
Toxic mercury, dioxin, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are among the Bay's most serious contaminants now, said Davis, the environmental scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute. Mercury has entered the food chain, leading to a consumption advisory for Bay fish, and it could have an impact on reproduction for some creatures. Further, Davis said, those compounds have been trapped in the sediment over the last several decades—and can be released by storms and shifting currents....

2009 July 16. Mysterious, Glowing Clouds Appear Across America's Night Skies. Wired Science. Excerpt: Mysterious, glowing clouds previously seen almost exclusively in Earth's polar regions have appeared in the skies over the United States and Europe over the past several days. Photographers and other sky watchers in Omaha, Paris, Seattle, and other locations have run outside to capture images of what scientists call noctilucent ("night shining") clouds. Formed by ice literally at the boundary where the earth's atmosphere meets space 50 miles up, they shine because they are so high that they remain lit by the sun even after our star is below the horizon.
The clouds might be beautiful, but they could portend global changes caused by global warming. Noctilucent clouds are ... "... a real concern and question," said James Russell, an atmospheric scientist at Hampton University and the principal investigator of an ongoing NASA satellite mission to study the clouds. "Why are they getting more numerous? Why are they getting brighter? Why are they appearing at lower latitudes?" ....

2008 March 31. US West Warming Faster Than Rest Of World - Study. Planet Ark; Reuters. Excerpt: LOS ANGELES - The US West is heating up at nearly twice the rate of the rest of the world and is likely to face more drought conditions in many of its fast-growing cities.... By analysing federal government temperature data, the Natural Resources Defence Council concluded that the average temperature in the 11-state Western region from 2003-07 was 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit (0.94 degrees Celsius) higher than the historical average of the 20th century. The global average increase for the same period was 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit (0.55 degrees Celsius). In the Colorado River Basin, which supplies water to big and fast-growing cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas and Denver, the average temperature rose 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit (1.21 degrees Celsius), the US group said.
Most of the river's water comes from melting snow in the mountains, and climate scientists predict hotter temperatures will reduce the snowpack and increase evaporation, the NRDC said in a statement. "Global warming is hitting the West hard," said Theo Spencer of the NRDC. "It is already taking an economic toll on the region's tourism, recreation, skiing, hunting and fishing activities."....

June 2007. State of the Climate in 2006. The American Meteorological Society Journals Online ( just sent out a report on the 'State of the Climate in 2006'. There's the Executive Summary (pdf: 1MB) and the full report (pdf: 36 MB) . Fascinating scientific report on meteorological data. Lots of excellent graphics!

17 April 2007. FEWER AEROSOLS MAY STEP UP GLOBAL WARMING. Program #5176 of the Earth & Sky Radio Series with hosts DEBORAH BYRD and JOEL BLOCK interviewing Michael Mishchenko at the Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York. Excerpt: Scientists believe they've seen a thinning of the aerosols found in Earth's atmosphere. That's important because aerosols - which come from industrial pollution as well as natural causes - help shield us from the effects of global warming. Some refer to them as a global "sunscreen." Aerosols cool Earth by reflecting sunlight. So, fewer aerosols mean more warming. [listener] Gene Renkin: We know that industrial pollution contributes to man-made global warming by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Reducing pollution lowers carbon dioxide production and slows down global warming. If at the same time, reducing industrial pollution reduces atmospheric aerosols and increases global warming, then what matters is the relative effect of these opposite influences on global warming Nothing in this article addresses that aspect of the situation. Please follow up on this. It is important, because as reported, your article might be cited support the ridiculous conclusion that increasing industrial atmospheric emissions will lessen global warming. All direct evidence is to the contrary....

10 April 2007. There Is Climate Change Censorship - and It's the Deniers Who Dish It Out. By George Monbiot. The Guardian UK.Excerpt: Global warming scientists are under intense pressure to water down findings, and are then accused of silencing their critics. The drafting of reports by the world's pre-eminent group of climate scientists is an odd process. For months scientists contributing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tussle over the evidence. Nothing gets published unless it achieves consensus. This means that the panel's reports are conservative - even timid. It also means that they are as trustworthy as a scientific document can be. Then, when all is settled among the scientists, the politicians sweep in and seek to excise from the summaries anything that threatens their interests. ...The Union of Concerned Scientists found that 58% of the 279 climate scientists working at federal agencies in the US who responded to its survey reported that they had experienced one of the following constraints:
1. Pressure to eliminate the words "climate change", "global warming", or other similar terms from their communications;
2. Editing of scientific reports by their superiors that "changed the meaning of scientific findings";
3. Statements by officials at their agencies that misrepresented their findings;
4. The disappearance or unusual delay of websites, reports, or other science-based materials relating to climate;
5. New or unusual administrative requirements that impair climate-related work;
6. Situations in which scientists have actively objected to, resigned from, or removed themselves from a project because of pressure to change scientific findings. They reported 435 incidents of political interference over the past five years. 2003, the White House gutted the climate-change section of a report by the Environmental Protection Agency. It deleted references to studies showing that global warming is caused by manmade emissions. It added a reference to a study, partly funded by the American Petroleum Institute, that suggested that temperatures are not rising. Eventually the agency decided to drop the section altogether.

October 2006. Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast. Excerpt: Last week, a team of independent scientists and researchers, in collaboration with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), released a new report detailing how global warming is poised to substantially change the climate in the Northeast, including rising temperatures, fewer snow covered days, increased sea level, and more extreme weather events-the study. Dr. Cameron Wake,Research Associate Professor, University of New Hampshire's Climate Change Research Center said "The very notion of the Northeast as we know it is at stake. The near-term emissions choices we make in the Northeast and throughout the world will help determine the climate and quality of life our children and grandchildren experience." The severity of climate change in the region will be greatly affected by the choices that citizens, governments, and businesses make today. Using new state-of-the-art research on recent and projected changes in the Northeast's regional climate, the study finds that without strong leadership and action, by late-century:
Northeast winters could warm by eight to 12 degrees Fahrenheit and summers by six to nearly 14 degrees. The length of the region's winter snow season could be cut in half. The frequency of short-term droughts could increase significantly. Sea-level could rise from eight inches to as much three feet. Many Northeast cities can expect about 25 days per year over 100 degrees. (Currently, Northeast cities experience this type of heat only once or twice a year.)....

14 September 2006. NASA Scientists See New Signs of Global Warming. By ANDREW C. REVKIN. Excerpt: Scientists have long suspected that the recent melting of Arctic Ocean ice in the summer might be a result of heat-trapping gases building up in the atmosphere. But yesterday NASA scientists reported that higher temperatures and a retreat of the sea ice over the last two winters offered new evidence that the gases were influencing the region's climate. While the summer melting could be a result of a number of phenomena like the flow of warm water, the scientists said, the reduction of winter ice two seasons in a row is harder to explain without invoking the heat-trapping effects of gases like carbon dioxide. ...In the past two winters, the peak of sea ice growth in the Arctic has been 6 percent below the average peak since the satellite observations began, Dr. [Josefino] Comiso said. His findings are to be published this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters....

8 March 2006. NASA RELEASE: 06-089. NASA Survey Confirms Climate Warming Impact on Polar Ice Sheets. In the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of the massive ice sheets covering both Greenland and Antarctica, NASA scientists confirm climate warming is changing how much water remains locked in Earth's largest storehouses of ice and snow. "If the trends we're seeing continue and climate warming continues as predicted, the polar ice sheets could change dramatically," said survey lead author Jay Zwally of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "The Greenland ice sheet could be facing an irreversible decline by the end of the century."

2 March 2006. NASA RELEASE: 06-085. NASA Mission Detects Significant Antarctic Ice Mass Loss. Scientists were able to conduct the first-ever gravity survey of the entire Antarctic ice sheet using data from the joint NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE). This comprehensive study found the ice sheet's mass has decreased significantly from 2002 to 2005. ...The estimated mass loss was enough to raise global sea level about 1.2 millimeters (0.05 inches) during the survey period; about 13 percent of the overall observed sea level rise for the same period. The researchers found Antarctica's ice sheet decreased by 152 (plus or minus 80) cubic kilometers of ice annually between April 2002 and August 2005.


Archives of Past Articles for Chapter 6

- 19 multimedia resources from Teachers' Domain Earth and Space Science.

Climate Change

Global Warming Art - a collection of figures and images that accurately highlight and describe key issues necessary to understanding our world's changing climate.