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Carbon Dioxide Levels See Largest Surge on Record

By: Mina Zahine

This year, the increase in carbon dioxide levels is one of the largest surges on record. According to scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this accumulation of gases has not been "seen for millions of years." Moreover, they say that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now 50 percent higher than during the industrial era.

Given that heat-trapping carbon dioxide is the root cause of global warming, this is a very concerning trend. NOAA's greenhouse gas monitoring group leader Arlyn Andrews says, "Not only is CO2 continuing to increase despite efforts to start reducing emissions, but it's increasing faster than it was 10 or 20 years ago."

According to Andrews, emissions used to increase by maybe 1 part per million per year, but now they are increasing by two or even three times that rate depending on the occurrence of an El Niño event. This is because carbon dioxide levels increase during El Niño climate cycles as it is drier in the Northern Hemisphere.

The two primary ways of tracking greenhouse gases are to monitor smokestacks and exhaust pipes and to measure the carbon dioxide in the air. However, the issue with the first way is about half of it gets absorbed by the oceans and lands.

Hawaii, home to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Keeling Curve, has been keeping track of the carbon dioxide in the air since 1958. In May, the readings peaked at 317.5, and since then, emissions have gone up by 33%.

According to NOAA Administrator Rick Spinard, the increase in carbon dioxide is "a direct result of human activity." Moreover, he says, "Every year, we see the impacts of climate change in the heat waves, droughts, flooding, wildfires and storms happening all around."

Climate scientist and IPCC contributing author at Australian National University, Mark Howden, says, "[A potential] means that probably next year our CO2 will go up by more than three parts per million." He says that levelling off greenhouse gas emissions will not do the trick as it will still lead to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which will sit there for hundreds to thousands of years. According to Howden, "The only way to stop that is to take it down to zero, at which stage we'll actually start to stabilize CO2."

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