Research Features

Record surge in atmospheric CO2

World Meteorological Organization (WMO) have announced concentrations levels of carbon dioxide, or CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere surged to a record high in 2016.

Last year’s increase was 50% higher than the average of the past 10 years which is a dramatic, concerning increase.

This year’s greenhouse gas bulletin produced and distributed by the WMO is based on measurements taken in 51 countries. The research stations are dotted around the globe constantly taking the measurements of concentrations levels from warming gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Scientists say these risks are making global temperature targets largely unattainable.

2016 saw average concentrations of CO2 hit 403.3 parts per million, up from 400ppm in 2015.

Dr Oksana Tarasova, chief of WMO’s global atmosphere watch programme said: “It is the largest increase we have ever seen in the 30 years we have had this network. 

“The largest increase was in the previous El Niño, in 1997-1998, and it was 2.7ppm; and now it is 3.3ppm. It is also 50% higher than the average of the last 10 years.”

According to experts, the last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was three to five million years ago, in the mid-Pliocene Epoch. The climate then was 2-3˚C warmer, and sea levels were 10-20m higher due to the melting of Greenland and the West Antarctic ice sheets.

Research Features recently spoke to Professor Mike Meredith who is a science leader at the British Antarctic Survey. Mike works closely with a team of experts who are studying how to tackle this ever-increasing issue. As our oceans can store large quantities of carbon (in fact they store far more carbon that can be stored in the atmosphere), they’re exploring the processes by which this happens:

Professor Mike said:

“The oceans exert a huge influence on our planet’s climate, by sucking down heat and carbon from the atmosphere, and storing them in the ocean depths for decades or even centuries. This does us humans a big favour, by slowing the rate of global warming – but we need to know more about how it works, so that we can predict it better.”

A particular focus for us is the waters that form close to Antarctica. These are made incredibly dense by interacting with the freezing atmosphere and ice, and they sink to the seabed and spread out to become the abyssal waters across most of the globe. These waters have warmed in recent decades, and we don’t really know why – but we need to figure it out, so that we can better predict how it will change in future. This matters for several reasons, including the global heat budget and sea level rise.”

To read the full interview please click here:

 

BAS: Investigating icy waters with Boaty McBoatface