Carbon dioxide, the gas that traps heat in Earth’s atmosphere, is rising to record levels at the annual spring peak, jumping at one of the fastest rates on record, officials said Monday.
Carbon dioxide in the air is now at its highest level in more than 4 million years, due to the burning of oil, coal and gas.
Scientists said that the last time the air witnessed the spread of similar quantities, the earth was the site of the spread of greenhouse gases that humans could not inhabit, before human civilization took root.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the level of carbon dioxide measured last May in Hawaii averaged 424 parts per million.
This is 3 parts per million more than the average for May last year, and 51% higher than pre-industrial levels of 280 parts per million.
It is one of the largest recorded annual increases in carbon dioxide levels from May to May, after only 2016 and 2019, which saw jumps of 3.7 and 3.4 parts per million, respectively.
“For me as an atmospheric scientist, this trend is very concerning,” said Arlene Andrews, chief of the carbon cycle division of the NOAA’s Greenhouse Gas Monitoring Group. “It’s not just that carbon dioxide continues to increase despite efforts to start reduce emissions, but it’s increasing faster than it was 10 or 20 years ago.”
Arlen added that emissions used to be increasing by maybe 1 part per million per year, but now they are increasing at two or even three times that rate, depending on whether or not El Niño occurs.
“The continued rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is very concerning if not fully predictable,” said Kim Cobb, a climatologist at Brown University who was not part of the research team, according to the Associated Press.
Carbon dioxide levels are rising so that they are higher each year than the year before.
However, there is a seasonal cycle in which carbon dioxide reaches its highest saturation point in May.
This is because two-thirds of the world’s land is in the northern hemisphere and plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air, so prevalence levels of carbon dioxide drop during the late spring and summer before starting to increase again in November, says Arlene Andrews.
Andrews added that carbon dioxide levels rise more during El Niño climate cycles because it is drier in the northern hemisphere, noting that an El Niño phenomenon is currently underway and that an increase of 3 parts per million in carbon dioxide levels may be an indication of the emergence of the El Niño phenomenon.
Andrews says there are two main ways to track greenhouse gases, or greenhouse gases.
One is to monitor what comes out of chimneys and exhaust pipes, but almost half of that amount is absorbed by the oceans and land.