Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Unprecedented Surge: Global Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Hits Record 417.06 ppm in 2022, Alarming Rise Continues”

In 2022, the global average atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration soared to an unprecedented 417.06 parts per million (ppm), marking a new record high. This increase of 2.13 ppm from 2021 signifies the 11th consecutive year of carbon dioxide levels rising by more than 2 ppm. The annual average at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the site of the modern carbon dioxide record since 1958, reached 418.56 ppm in 2022.

Driven primarily by the burning of fossil fuels for energy, carbon dioxide concentrations have been steadily climbing. Fossil fuels like coal and oil, containing carbon sequestered by plants over millions of years, are rapidly returning this carbon to the atmosphere within a few centuries. Global emissions from fossil fuel combustion have surged from nearly 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year in the 1960s to an estimated 36.6 billion tons in 2022, according to the Global Carbon Budget 2022.

Despite natural carbon sinks on land and in the ocean absorbing approximately half of the emitted carbon dioxide in the 2011-2020 decade, human activities still contribute more carbon dioxide than these natural processes can remove. This perpetual imbalance results in an annual increase in the total atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

The pace of this increase is accelerating; in the 1960s, the global growth rate was approximately 0.8± 0.1 ppm per year, while the 2010s saw a rate of 2.4 ppm per year. Over the past six decades, the annual rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase has been about 100 times faster than natural historical fluctuations, such as those observed at the end of the last ice age 11,000-17,000 years ago.

Graph Description: The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (depicted by the blue line) has exhibited a parallel increase alongside human emissions (illustrated by the gray line) since the commencement of the Industrial Revolution in 1750. Initially, emissions experienced gradual growth, reaching approximately 5 gigatons (one gigaton equals a billion metric tons) annually in the mid-20th century. However, a notable acceleration occurred thereafter, propelling emissions to surpass 35 billion tons per year by the close of the century. This graphical representation is based on data from NOAA and ETHZ for atmospheric CO2 concentrations and Our World in Data and the Global Carbon Project for CO2 emissions. The trajectory underscores the significant correlation between human activities and the rising levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, plays a crucial role in Earth’s natural greenhouse effect by absorbing and radiating heat. In 2021, carbon dioxide alone was responsible for about two-thirds of the total heating influence from all human-produced greenhouse gases, according to NOAA Global Monitoring Lab observations.

Comparing historical data from ice cores, it is evident that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels never exceeded 300 ppm during the ice age cycles of the past million years. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, pre-1700s levels were 280 ppm or less. Continuous observations at Mauna Loa since 1958 revealed a starting concentration of 315 ppm.

Current carbon dioxide levels surpass any point in human history, reaching a level not witnessed in over 3 million years during the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period. During this period, global temperatures were 4.5–7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (2.5–4 degrees Celsius) warmer than the pre-industrial era, and sea levels were 16 to 82 feet higher than in 1900.

If global energy demand continues its rapid growth, predominantly fueled by fossil fuels, projections suggest human emissions could exceed 75 billion tons per year by the end of the century. This trajectory could elevate atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to 800 ppm or higher, unseen on Earth for close to 50 million years. The data underscores the urgent need for transformative actions to address and mitigate the ongoing climate crisis.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *