World CO2 Levels Dangerously High: January Sees 399.5 ppm in First Week, Could Crack 400 Before Month-End

In speeding toward a climate cliff unlike anything seen in geological history, we continue to slam the accelerator through the floor-boards of our metaphorical ‘world civilization’ automobile… One hopes we should apply the breaks, but, in the same thought, wonders if they have already started to give out…

*    *    *    *    *    *

From 2012 to 2013 worldwide annual CO2 levels, as measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory, raced ahead by nearly 3 ppm. This break-neck pace was more than seven times faster than at any period in the observed geological record spanning hundreds of millions of years. As 2013 transitioned to 2014, the unprecedented pace of increase showed little sign of slackening with hourly average CO2 levels reaching 399.5 PPM on January 7th of this year.

Mauna Loa Early January

(Daily and hourly CO2 average readings as recorded at the Mauna Loa Observatory from January 1 to January 7. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

These levels are similar to those seen last year during late April, near the peak of the annual atmospheric CO2 cycle that typically occurs during late May to early June. If this year’s pace of atmospheric CO2 increase continues, it is entirely possible that hourly, daily, or even weakly averages will exceed 403 ppm CO2 come late spring. Meanwhile, it appears possible that hourly CO2 averages will exceed 400 ppm before the end of this month.

Increasing Environmental Feedbacks Driving Higher Rate of CO2 Increase?

Though it is too early to conclude that the rate of CO2 increase has quickened, observations show rising contributions of both CO2 and methane from Earth Systems in addition to the inexorably increasing human emission. Thawing Arctic tundra, increasingly wide-spread forest fires, expanding drought zones, and ocean zones that appear to be reaching CO2 saturation points all hint at an Earth System that is both less able to absorb human CO2 emissions and more likely to release carbon (CO2 and methane) on its own.

The Arctic alone, in recent years, has been placed on the map as a major emitter of both CO2 and methane contributing enough volumes of these gasses to make it one of the world’s largest emission sources. If the Arctic were a country, it would probably rank around 4th in total global carbon emissions when compared to the world’s industrialized nations. And, unfortunately, the Arctic is likely just starting to ramp up as a carbon source (see Amplifying Feedbacks and Arctic Methane Monster Stirs).

With the human forcing so strong and the pace of Arctic warming so great, it is only a matter of time before the emissions signal coming from the Arctic becomes irrefutable to the rational observer. The question, at this point, is: has it already started to happen?

Racing Toward a Very Dangerous World

Both the quickening pace of global average CO2 increase and the observed increasing emission from the Arctic are cause for serious concern. A world that remains stable at 400 ppm is a world about 2-3 C hotter than today. Its seas are 15 to 75 feet higher. And its ability to support the kind of environments that humans are used to is radically reduced. But world CO2 levels are not stable at 400 ppm. They are racing higher at between 2.2 and, in recent years, close to 3 ppm (official average increase of 2.65 ppm for 2013) — six to seven times faster than ever before.

The Earth System has yet to fully respond to this rapid and very powerful insult.

Which brings me to this final thought as was so creatively illustrated over at the Arctic News blog:


(Image source: Arctic News)


The Keeling Curve

Arctic News


Leave a comment


  1. lanikk

     /  January 13, 2014

    Still hoping to hear you are working on the if not here where paper?

  2. Gerald Spezio

     /  January 13, 2014

    “They are racing higher at between 2.2 and, in recent years, 3 ppm — six to seven times faster than ever before.”
    Coupled with accelerating arctic methane releases that will soon be doubling & quadrupling, we can confidently predict that we are observing the run up to our own near term ugly deaths.

  3. james cole

     /  January 14, 2014

    This news on CO2 accumulation fits right in with what we would expect after last years figures. What is Scary is that the Arctic Seas have already responded in grand fashion to a level below 400PPM, now we shall see how it reacts to over 400PPM. The arctic was so finely balanced, the ice cover contributing to it’s own existence via it’s great reflective powers, that means that the ice loss could and has now flipped the arctic from the great reflector and cooler, to the great absorber and heater, and it has happened in record time. The IPCC being many decades behind the curve. The future seems gloomy. Arctic tundra is now releasing green house gases, most scary is the Russian witnessing of exponential growth in Methane plume out to sea. Everyone is now in denial, the Government, the corporations and even many scientists. I will get ill if I hear one more scientist brighten up his report on green house gases with a nice little tag line about how we still have time to stay below 2C, how we can reverse the course we are on. Seriously? In a world where governments are under radical pressure to raise people’s living standards, in a world economy where growth is a direct function of fossil energy use?
    I believe that business as usual is still in the cards. Only an strong El Nino event in conjunction with the melting Arctic and the unstuck jet stream combining to create EPIC weather events on a scale that shocks humanity to it’s core will wake people up.
    One bright point, I post on many economics blogs under comments. For years I have been torn to bits over my global warming posts, but in the last 12 months, the attacks have reduced sharply. I can sense that even the extreme weather is making believers ever so slowly. My last post on climate, was met with only a few down votes, and some comments in support of my posts. This is a sea change in attitudes, it is the first sign I have seen of deniers beginning to lose ground to real events.

    • I am seeing an unexpectedly strong positive CO2 and methane signal in the Arctic. I did not expect CO2 to increase in the range of 3 ppm (annual) back to back.

      I find that deniers listen if you speak to them in a language they understand — fear. It was always about emotion for them anyway. They wanted comfort. Well, now it’s pretty clear they can’t have it.

      In some sense, it’s not entirely fair to say ‘they’ (except for the wanton business moguls who knew they were doing harm but just kept doing it anyway). To some extent, I think it’s fair to say we’re all in a bit of denial.

  4. SourabhJain

     /  January 14, 2014

    Hi Rob,
    Is it only seven times faster? I thought 2ppm was at least orders of magnitude faster, as mentioned in James Hansen’s book.

    I do not know if 3ppm is just another yearly anomaly or reduction in carbon sinks. Latter is much more dangerous.

    • Happened last year. Looks like it’s happening this year.

      Hansen shows the total human forcing is about an order of magnitude greater. This is somewhat different than the rate of CO2 increase as it includes all carbon cycle gasses, land use and albedo change caused by humans. It’s related to extra energy (watts per meter squared) absorbed by the Earth System. So the two measures are separate but related.

      • SourabhJain

         /  January 14, 2014

        In his book, he says current forcing is 10000 times faster than natural forcing.

        Not to nitpick or quibble, but I just checked The yearly increase in atmospheric CO2 during 2013 was 2.65 ppm. During 2012, it was 2.23. The highest yearly increase was in 1998 (2.87ppm). Were you talking about monthly or yearly change?

        Did recent volcanic activities in Indonesia introduce large monthly/hourly variability during past month or two?

        • Sorry Sourbah, but there’s a bit of apples and oranges going on here. You’re talking about background rate of forcing at the end of the last ice age. I’m talking about highest seen in the record. There’s a big difference. In any case, the current rate of CO2 increase, as stated in the blog, is about six to seven times faster than seen during any time in the geological record.

          The CO2 now averages are correct (annual). My 3 ppm number comes from peaks and valleys, not the average (and is a rough figure). In any case, I’ve added the average reading to make the blog more precise.

          Usually, you will have a year that’s a bit ahead of the average (2.2 ppm) and then one that’s a bit behind. 2013 to 2014 appears as if it will be a second year of rapid increase. And this, though not remarkable yet, may be cause for some concern.

          It’s possible that volcanoes may have added some small signal to the weekly/daily/hourly totals.

      • SourabhJain

         /  January 14, 2014

        Oh okay. Thanks for clarifying both points. I misunderstood. Now, seven makes much more sense.

        Annual difference in peak and valleys is also growing every year. You are right on that part.

      • Oh yes. The amplitude is very high. Seems to come from more growth from added CO2 and more burning from increased temps.

  5. Tom

     /  January 14, 2014

    Remember people, this isn’t the only feedback loop in the works. None of the over 2 dozen are reversible, all of them are compounding on each other, and more seem to appear regularly. Then we have all the man-made ones (starting of course with our way of living on the planet – industrial civilization) like Fukushima (bad design), fracking (ignorant business model), and our toxic and plastic waste throughout the environment (poor waste disposal and management) .

    We’re on a one-way ticket out of here, so enjoy your days.

  6. Tom

     /  January 14, 2014

    Only geo-engineering can reverse climate change — too bad it won’t work
    Guy McPherson

    In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), among the most conservative scientific organizations on Earth, issued a report concluding that global warming is irreversible without geo-engineering.

    Yet, as Earth System Dynamics recently pointed out, known strategies for geo-engineering are unlikely to succeed and that “climate geo-engineering cannot simply be used to undo global warming.”

    Meanwhile, in December, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences announced that gradual change of the climate is not guaranteed: “The history of climate on the planet — as read in archives such as tree rings, ocean sediments, and ice cores — is punctuated with large changes that occurred rapidly, over the course of decades to as little as a few years.”

    Indeed, Earth has witnessed a five-degree Celsius rise in global-average temperature during a span of 13 years.

    Writing for the Arctic Methane Emergency Group, John Davies concludes: “The world is probably at the start of a runaway Greenhouse Event which will end most human life on Earth before 2040.” Davies considers only atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, not the abundant self-reinforcing feedback loops triggered on the climate-change front.

    Considering only one feedback loop among many, methane release from the Arctic Ocean is expected to increase global-average temperature by more than 4°C by 2030 and 10°C by 2040, according to Sam Carana’s research (see especially Image 24).

    Humans have not occupied Earth at 3.5°C above baseline. If this seems problematic to you, I believe you’re paying attention.

    • If that much heat came into play so soon, the ice sheets would certainly have their say. This would likely take some of the temperature edge off while causing all sorts of other chaos (it’s important to remember that not all the feedback loops are positive and rapid ice melt and meltwater release is one of the big negatives out there).

      IF temperatures remained so high in conjunction with ice sheet response, well, then there’d be very, very serious trouble. But there’s no indication of that in the science at this time, only a few, admittedly disconcerting, warnings from past ages (paleoclimate).

      In any case, we aren’t, as yet, seeing anything like this, absolute worst case, scenario. The increasing methane and CO2 signal in the Arctic is very troubling, however. So keeping an honest eye on things is as crucial as ever.

  7. We are losing a mojor carbon sink as the forests – and indeed, all perennial vegetation on earth – is dying. It is being poisoned by tropospheric ozone. Ozone is invisible so most people don’t even realize that the background level is inexorably rising. The persistent concentration is now at or over 40 ppb, in even very remote locations far from precursors – and that is the point at which plantlife becomes damaged when it absorbs ozone through the stomata. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that injures leaves and needles, causing plants and trees to shortchange root systems in order to repair the damage, making them more vulnerable to drought and wind. Perhaps the worst effect is that cumulative damage weakens natural immunity towards disease, insects and fungus. These biotic epidemics are typically blamed for massive forest decline but in fact that are opportunisitc attacks on dying organisms. Commerical crops are reduced, everything from coffee to bananas to citrus and maple syrup. Annual crop yield and quality loss is measured in the billions of dollars worldwide, including essentials such as wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans.

    People should be extremely frightened by this accelerating trend. We cannot survive without trees.

    Links to research here:

  8. Gerald Spezio

     /  January 14, 2014

    Wastes & Pollution!
    In 2004 “Limits to Growth – the 30 year update” made the prediction that pollution would probably put the biggest nail in our coffin & would do it first.

    All the predictions of the overpopulation geniuses, such as Garrett Hardin & Paul Ehrlich, have been proven completely wrong.

    From Charlie Smith; “Spends yo money while you libben caus you cain’t spend it when you daid.”

  9. Robert,

    MLO gives us a glimpse of CO2 at one point on the globe, It does not capture the global picture of CO2 distribution or change.

    For example, the CO2 distribution at 815 mb on January 12, 2014 12-24 hrs UTC depicts widespread areas in the Arctic well above 400 ppm and a global ppm average for that period of 496 ppm for all atmospheric layers collected by the METOP2 IASI satellite instrument.


    • Cheers A4R. I appreciate the info, but it doesn’t really have a context. We’ve been using surface measures as the standard for so long that it’s hard to quantify what the mixed layer measure means. And, to my knowledge, the paleoclimate proxy data also indicates a surface value.



  10. Ronnie

     /  January 19, 2014

    Lots of great posts here.
    My favorite: “Remember people, this isn’t the only feedback loop in the works. None of the over 2 dozen are reversible, all of them are compounding on each other, and more seem to appear regularly. Then we have all the man-made ones (starting of course with our way of living on the planet – industrial civilization) like Fukushima (bad design), fracking (ignorant business model), and our toxic and plastic waste throughout the environment (poor waste disposal and management) .

    We’re on a one-way ticket out of here, so enjoy your days.”

  1. Another Week in the Ecological Crisis, January 19, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered
  2. Arctic ‘Heat Wave’ to Rip Polar Vortex in Half, Shatter Alaska’s All-Time Record High for January? | robertscribbler
  3. Arctic ‘Heat Wave’ to Rip Polar Vortex in Half, Shatter Alaska’s All-Time Record High for January? | 2 Degrees Centigrade

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: