Antarctica’s CO2 Level Tops 400 PPM for First Time in Perhaps 4 Million Years

Bob Berwyn in Moyers and Company:

GettyImages-517986604-1280x720The concentration of heat-trapping CO2 pollution in the atmosphere has passed the 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold in Antarctica for the first time in at least 800,000 years, and possibly as long as 4 million years, scientists reported this week. The new measurements, reported by British and US research stations, show that every corner of the planet is being affected by the burning of fossil fuels, according to British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists who track environmental changes on the frozen continent. “CO2 is rising faster than it was when we began measurements in the 1980s. We have changed our planet to the very poles,” sad British Antarctic Survey scientist Dr. David Vaughn, who reported on the readings from the Halley VI Research Station.

Independently, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week also reported a similar reading from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Before humans started wide-scale burning of coal, oil and gas in the mid-1800s, the CO2 level had been steady at about 280 ppm for many millennia. Since then, the concentration has increased in lockstep with fossil-fuel combustion, at a rate of about 2.1 ppm per year. The steady increase means more and more heat is trapped near the surface of the Earth, melting ice caps, intensifying heat waves and droughts, raising sea levels and killing corals reefs. CO2 concentrations in the Northern Hemisphere first reached the 400 ppm level in 2013, said Pieter Tans, head of NOAA’s long-term greenhouse gas monitoring program. In 2014, they stayed above the mark for three months, and last year for five months. This year, climate trackers said they increased at a record rate and they’re set to stay above that level for many decades, if not centuries, depending on future fossil-fuel combustion.

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