Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 2:13 PM GMT on March 11, 2014
Climate change's most iconic research project is in danger--a victim of budget cuts in an era of increased government belt-tightening. The Keeling Curve is a measurement of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere made atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, begun in 1958 by Dr. Charles Keeling. It is the longest-running such measurement in the world. The curve was instrumental in showing how human emissions of carbon dioxide were steadily accumulating in Earth's atmosphere, and raised awareness that human-caused climate change was an ever-increasing threat to the stability of our climate. After Keeling's death in 2005, the measurements were continued by his son, Ralph F. Keeling. Support from NSF, NOAA and NASA is being diminished or withdrawn, and Keeling has turned to crowd-funding to help raise funds to continue these important measurements. I hope you can join me in making a donation.
Figure 1. The Keeling Curve: climate change's most iconic image. The curve's steady year-by-year increase in CO2 due to burning of coal, oil, and natural gas has wriggles on top of it, due to the natural seasonal cycle in CO2--plants suck in CO2 during the Northern Hemisphere growing season, then release it during the winter. Image credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USCD.
Figure 2. Dr. Charles Keeling posing at the entrance to the Charles Keeling Building at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. Image credit: NOAA/ESRL.
CO2 Levels Hit 401 ppm
The latest data from the Keeling curve website shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are surging upwards in their usual late winter push, as plants return CO2 to the atmosphere before the Northern Hemisphere spring growing season hits. CO2 levels reached 401 ppm (parts per million) last week on top of Mauna Loa, setting a new record. CO2 levels were at 280 ppm in 1870, increased less than 1 ppm per year in the 1960s, then accelerated to 2 ppm per year during the 2000s. Less than 1% of the increase since 1870 has been due to natural sources, such as volcanoes. The last time carbon dioxide levels reached 400 ppm—between 2.5 and 5 million years ago during the Pliocene Era—the Earth was 3.5 to 9° F warmer (2 to 5° C), and sea levels were 65 to 80 feet higher.
There is a hashtag #savetheKeelingCurve
Eli Rabett's post, Shaking the Cup for Science
What Does 400 ppm Look Like? December 2013 blog post by Robert Monroe of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
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