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Monday, April 25, 2016


Atmospheric CO2 Rising Off the Chart, Spikes Above 409 ppm on April 10

by Gaius Publius

Preliminary weekly (red line), monthly (blue line) and daily (black points) atmospheric CO2 averages at Mauna Loa for the last year (my annotation; source; click to enlarge)

I've likely said too many times to count that (1) the degradation in our climate won't be either linear or gradual; and (2) most estimates of the rate of decay are wrong to the slow side, too conservative. The rate of increase in atmospheric CO2 is turning into a prime example.

This is what decadal changes in atmospheric CO2 has looked like through the last half-century (source):


Atmospheric CO2
Growth Rate

    2005 - 2014   

    2.11 ppm per year   

 1995 - 2004

 1.87 ppm per year

 1985 - 1994

 1.42 ppm per year

 1975 - 1984

 1.44 ppm per year

 1965 - 1974

 1.06 ppm per year

 1959 - 1964
(6 years only)

0.73 ppm per year

For quite a while, climate scientists have been comforted (if that's the world for a very jittery bunch) by the stability of the CO2 growth rate — "only" 2.11 ppm per year. There is some acceleration, obviously. But for the most part that acceleration hasn't been dramatic, aside from the large one-year spike in 1998 (chart here).

We now have another large one-year spike (see chart at the top of this piece; also here), and we're not done yet. The actual yearly peak in atmospheric CO2 is reached in May, a number not yet available, so the April peak (so far) is still shy of the actual number for 2016. (Note that both 1998 and 2016 are El Niño years, but as you'll read, that should not be comforting.)

Keep in mind, CO2 readings barely touched 400 ppm very recently — as a the daily average, in 2013; as a monthly average, in 2014 — and the monthly readings solidly breached 400 ppm only in 2015 (per-month data table here). The May 2014 highest weekly mean was 401.88 ppm. The May 2015 highest weekly mean was 403.94, for a rise of a little over 2 ppm, the average over the last 10 years. The May 2016 weekly average could peak near 410 ppm, and one of the daily averages could exceed it. (If you look at this chart, you'll see the hourly average has already breached 410 ppm. In the hourly measurements, we're already there.)

This is a problem, this spike in atmospheric CO2, and a more immediate one than this generation is prepared to acknowledge. Robert Scribbler comments (my emphasis):
Hothouse Gas Spikes to Extreme 409.3 Parts Per Million on April 10 — Record Rate of Atmospheric CO2 Increase Likely for 2016

Simply put, a rapid atmospheric accumulation of greenhouse gasses is swiftly pushing the Earth well outside of any climate context that human beings are used to. The influence of an extreme El Nino on the world ocean system’s ability to take down a massive human carbon emission together with signs of what appears to be a significantly smaller but growing emission from global carbon stores looks to be setting the world up for another record jump in atmospheric CO2 levels during 2016.

Already, as we near the annual peak during late April through early May, major CO2 spikes are starting to show up. On Sunday, April 10 the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded a daily CO2 reading in the extraordinary range of 409.3 parts per million. These readings follow March monthly averages near 405 parts per million and precede an annual monthly peak in May that’s likely to hit above 407 parts per million and may strike as high as 409 parts per million. These are levels about 135 to 235 parts per million above the average interglacial to ice age range for CO2 levels during the relatively stable climate period of the last 2 million years.
Consider this trajectory of highest daily means from the chart above:
  • 2014 – 2015 = ~3 ppm (402 ppm – 405 ppm)
  • 2015 – 2016 = ~4 ppm (405 ppm – 409 ppm)
Even if we average "just" a steady +4 ppm/year for 10 years (with no more acceleration), we'll be at 450 ppm in the mid 2020s, not the mid-2050s. That spells trouble for this generation, not just the next.

About El Niño...

There's a lot of cheerleading for the end of El Niño, so that the ocean can again take up more of the excess heat. That's not a good thing. Consider that if the sun's excess heat ends up in the ocean, the slower acceleration in atmospheric heat is only temporary, only delayed, since every El Niño year the ocean "burps" its heat back out again. The more heat the ocean stores, the more it has to spit back out. Increasing the rate of emissions increase the total heat retained in the system. It's a literal lose-lose situation.

Look again at this chart and tell me why this train isn't headed for disaster.

Is This an Emergency Yet?

... or can we afford to wait even longer? If this isn't the cusp of a possible near-term species emergency, I don't know what is. Keep in mind, the social chaos could easily precede the full climate chaos, as people see what's coming. Social chaos will make organizing a solution much harder.

If this were a giant asteroid 10 years away with just a 30% chance of hitting the earth, we'd be scrambling every dollar we had to build something to prevent it. I personally think we need that kind of effort now, and arguing for it now is our one best hope.

It isn't over yet though, and there are things you can do now:
  • Sign on the one of the "emergency mobilization" petitions and join their actions. One of those petitions is here.
  • Bernie Sanders is the only candidate talking about a planetary emergency — which seems to be born out by data, and not just the data above — one that may require a WWII-style mobilization to prevent. Consider voting for him.
Blue America has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. If you'd like to help out, go here. If you'd like to "phone-bank for Bernie," go here. You can volunteer in other ways by going here. And thanks!

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)