Despite humanity's best, but still feeble, efforts, CO2 levels continue to climb rapidly.
The Global Monitoring Laboratory operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measured that the average concentration of carbon dioxide in May had reached a new high of 424 parts per million. Pre-industrial CO2 levels were 270 ppm.
That compares to May 2022’s average CO2 concentration of 421 ppm.
The jump of 3 ppm from last year was also the fourth highest year-to-year increase measured since NOAA began its carbon dioxide monitoring program in 1974.
The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, based at the University of California at San Diego, reported in parallel with NOAA’s announcement that it had measured CO2 concentrations of 423.78 ppm at the top of Mauna Loa as well.
Both values are monitored on a continuous basis at a height located over 11,000 feet (3353 meters) above sea level. The selection of the monitoring location and the altitude are intended to ensure sampling of the atmosphere where localized pollution will not have any major influence on the measurement apparatus.
A major eruption of the Mauna Kea volcano in November 2022 caused lava to cover over one mile of the access road to the Mauna Loa CO2 monitoring station. Image: Hawaii EMA Civil Air Patrol
This year the NOAA data was measured at a temporary sampling spot on Mauna Kea. The scientists had to set up new equipment because eruptions of the Mauna Kea volcano in November 2022 had cut off access to the original site.
Power to the Scripps sampling system had also been cut off temporarily by the same eruption. Lava flows damaged a data transmission and power cable leading to the site, along with approximately one mile of roadway there. Once the lava field nearby had stabilized, researchers from that institution were able to restart their apparatus as of March after connecting it to a solar power system with battery backup.
For those following the news of the latest volcanic eruption at Mauna Loa which happened this week, the fumes from that did not affect the data because the eruption happened after the May measurements were already complete.
Sampling in May is considered important because it represents the month when carbon dioxide emissions peak in the Northern Hemisphere and growing vegetation starts sucking up the CO2 it needs, which lowers levels.
The ongoing monitoring is considered critical to tracking the pace of greenhouse gas emissions and their biggest component by volume, carbon dioxide. Those emissions are primarily anthropogenic (human-caused) in origin, with burning of fossil fuels for transportation and electrical power production being the primary contributors, with some industrial processes such as cement manufacturing, which produces 8% of all carbon emissions worldwide, also having an important impact.
In the growing list of naturally occurring contributors to carbon dioxide emissions are wildfires, such as the current wave spreading across northeastern Canada. But even those are considered indirect effects of the high heat and drought tied to the climate crisis, which is caused by solar energy trapped close to the Earth’s surface by greenhouse gases which hover there.
Graph of carbon dioxide emissions measured at the Mauna Loa observatory since the 1950s. Image: NOAA
Those carbon dioxide emissions are directly responsible for high temperatures such as the ones which have been affecting much of Asia for months, extreme weather including super typhoons such as Mawar which roared across the Pacific Ocean with sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) just in the last few weeks, and sea level rise thanks to glacial and snow melting on the poles, in Greenland, and in the Himalayan mountain range, record-setting flooding in places like Pakistan last fall which pushed over a million people from their homes and damaged one-half of the nation’s farmlands, and drought in other areas.
The increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also directly responsible for increased acidification of ocean waters, as the CO2 is absorbed and becomes chemically integrated.
“Sadly we’re setting a new record,” said Ralph Keeling, the scientist who is responsible for keeping up to date the “Keeling Curve” tracking carbon dioxide emissions trends over time. This curve is named after his father, the researcher who began tracking this data 65 years ago.
“What we’d like to see is the curve plateauing and even falling because carbon dioxide as high as 420 or 425 parts per million is not good,” he explained. “It shows as much as we’ve done to mitigate and reduce emissions, we still have a long way to go.”
NOAA Administrator Dr. Rick Spinrad also commented on the latest carbon dioxide measurements in Hawaii in a statement, and provided some warnings as to what it means.
“Every year we see carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere increase as a direct result of human activity,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “Every year, we see the impacts of climate change in the heat waves, droughts, flooding, wildfires, and storms happening all around us. While we will have to adapt to the climate impacts we cannot avoid, we must expend every effort to slash carbon pollution and safeguard this planet and the life that calls it home.”
What climate scientists aren't mentioning is the CO2 spewing out from the melting Arctic, which we know is outpacing human reductions because during the insane COVID lockdowns human emissions plummeted yet atmospheric CO2 levels continued to climb. This demonstrates that natural emissions have increased substantially. And because there is vastly more carbon locked in the Arctic than all humans ever for all time, and there is already enough heating locked in to ensure that the Arctic continues to melt, runaway catastrophic global heating and climate change is assured and should be planned for.