AUSTIN (KXAN) – As Central Texas continues to face 100-degree days, NOAA announced unprecedented carbon dioxide measurements, a bleak reminder that global warming is here to stay.
Carbon dioxide measurements at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Atmospheric Baseline Observatory peaked in May at 421 parts per million (ppm) for 2022, according to scientists from NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. This measurement indicates that carbon dioxide levels have soared to become 50% higher than pre-industrial levels.
As a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) traps heat that is reflected from the Earth’s surface, preventing it from escaping into space. While this is vital in regulating the temperature of Earth, excess amounts of the gas can cause the planet to warm too quickly, inciting extreme weather including increasing temperatures, droughts and flooding, and severe tropical storm activity.
This has devastating consequences for life on Earth. Severe droughts can dry out forests, allowing wildfires to ignite and spread rapidly through forest habitats. In the oceans, the warming climate causes increased sea surface temperatures and carbon absorption, causing the water to become more acidic leading to coral bleaching. The warming climate will cause major issues for humans as well. The economic cost of tropical storms, wildfires, and other natural disasters will increase immensely, and rising sea levels will threaten many coastal cities and towns.
Carbon dioxide levels have been rapidly increasing since the start of the industrial revolution. Coal, oil, and natural gas production and usage have caused CO2 emissions to skyrocket. According to NOAA, an estimated 1.5 trillion tons of CO2 have been released by humans in the past two centuries, causing carbon dioxide levels to rise from 280 ppm in pre-industrial times to well over 400 ppm.
While two centuries may seem like a long time, it is just a blip in geologic history. To put things into perspective, the last time CO2 levels were over 400 ppm was 4.1 to 4.5 million years ago, during the Pliocene Climatic Optimum. This was a period when sea levels were 5 to 25 meters higher than modern-day sea levels, and many areas covered in ice today were covered in forest.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist, Charles David Keeling, began measuring CO2 at Mauna Loa in 1958. Since then, Mauna Loa has become the global reference point for atmospheric measurements due to its prime location over 11,000 feet above sea level and its isolation from pollution and vegetation.
Using his measurements, Keeling was the first to discover that CO2 measurements were rising each year. Despite these findings and the subsequent research on the consequences, there has yet to be a successful collective effort to slow CO2 emissions. The continuously increasing measurements at Mauna Loa are the result of this.