CO2 Continues Dangerous Rise, Hits 400.2 Parts Per Million in Late February


(Daily and hourly CO2 readings at the Mauna Loa Observatory from February 20 to 26. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

More than two months before typical annual maximum in late May or early June, global average CO2 levels have again breached the dangerous 400 part per million threshold.

On February 26th, Mauna Loa’s CO2 observatory recorded three hourly readings at or above 400 parts per million with a peak value of 400.2 ppm. The reading comes just ten months after weekly CO2 values exceeded 400 parts per million during May of 2013, the first time in more than 3 million years that atmospheric levels have been so high.

At the current annual rate of increase, we can expect CO2 levels to peak around 401.5 to 403 parts per million sometime in late May of this year. Last year’s average annual rate of increase was 2.6 parts per million over 2012. If 2014 were to match this, abnormally rapid, pace, daily and hourly measures could exceed peak values of 403 parts per million over the next two months.

A Steepening Rise of Concentration

From the early 1960s the pace of atmospheric CO2 increase was about 1 part per million each year. As human population, fossil fuel consumption, and industrialized agriculture expanded, annual rates of CO2 increase up-ticked to about 1.5 parts per million from 1980 to 2000 and again to slightly above 2 parts per million each year from 2000 to the present. Due to a number of factors including an expected continued increase in fossil fuel burning, the exhaustion of various carbon sinks around the globe, expected changes to ocean and land based photosynthetic life, and the release of various global carbon stores due to amplifying feedbacks related to human-caused warming, rates of CO2 increase are expected to be as much as 7 parts per million or more each year by the middle of this century.


(An ever-steepening curve. CO2 levels from 1700 to the present. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

Current Pace of Emission Without Precedent

The current pace of emission has no corollary in the geological record. Based on best observations, the fastest CO2 increases in the past were during either the PETM extinction event of 55 million years ago or the Permian Extinction, or Great Dying, of 250 million years ago. During these periods, rapid rates of CO2 increase were observed at about .35 parts per million each year. The current pace is now six or seven times that seen during these dangerous geological epochs and expected rates of CO2 increase during this century could exceed 20 times that seen in the record.

It is worth noting that more than 32 billion tons of CO2 now go into the atmosphere each year and that this rate of emission alone is about 160 times that of volcanic emissions the world over. Total human carbon emissions in CO2 equivalence for all greenhouse gasses is now over 50 billion tons, or more than 200 times global volcanic emissions. Even an epic flood basalt on the order of that which appeared during the Permian Extinction couldn’t match the current pace of human emission.

CO2 emissions sks

(CO2 emissions through 2012 with related IPCC scenarios overlaid. Image source: The Conversation.)

The very rapid pace of increase also drives an exceedingly rapid pace of climate and geophysical change. Among the impacts include very rapidly rising temperatures, potentially very rapid ice melt and global sea level rise, potentially very rapid pace of ocean stratification and anoxia, rapid and chaotic reordering of climate and ecological zones, and a pace of ocean acidification that has no corollary during any past geological age. This combination of rapid-fire impacts presents very severe hazards to all life and ecological systems that are likely to result in stresses never before seen on Earth over the next century under business as usual fossil fuel emissions.

What Does the World Look Like at 400 Parts Per Million CO2, Long-Term?

Considering that we are already passing the dangerous 400 ppm CO2 threshold, it is important to think about what a world with a near constant level of CO2 in this range looks like over the long haul. This is important because, in the current political climate, it appears highly unlikely that fossil fuel emissions will ever be brought into a range that results in a potential for atmospheric CO2 decline (approaching zero fossil fuel emissions). In addition, a number of heat-driven amplifying feedbacks are already in place that are pushing some of Earth’s large carbon stores to release. These include, but are not limited to, major Arctic carbon store releases and major tropical forest carbon store releases that are now likely on the order of human CO2 emissions during the middle of the 20th Century.

In addition, the human and feedback methane release, human nitrous oxide release, and other human greenhouse gas release counters all the global cooling resulting from human aerosol release (sulfur dioxide etc). And while the human aerosol release will eventually draw down with the cessation of coal use (either through laissez faire depletion or through an attempt at rational political action), these other greenhouse gasses will remain in the atmosphere for years, decades and centuries.

The result of these combined factors is that the world is likely to remain in the range of 390-405 parts per million CO2 even if rapid mitigation were to begin today. And so it is worthwhile to think about what such a world looks like, considering that to be our rational, best case scenario, and not to put too much faith in the entirely too conservative equilibrium-based scenarios posed by the IPCC.

For a corollary to our absolute best case, we should therefore look to the Pliocene climate of 3.0 to 3.3 million years ago when CO2 levels stabilized at around the current range of 390 to 405 ppm CO2. And Pliocene during this time was 2 to 3 degrees warmer than the 1880s average. It was a climate in which sea levels were at least 15 to 75 feet higher than today (some studies show up to 110 feet higher). And it was a climate in which the Greenland and West Antarctica were entirely bereft of glaciers.

This climate vision of the past if probably the absolute best we can hope for under current systems and a very rapid mitigation. Wait just a few more years and we push above the 405 parts per million threshold as we begin entering a rough corollary to the Miocene climate of 15 million years ago. Wait another few decades and we get to the 500-600 part per million threshold that puts all ice on Earth at risk of melt and sets in place conditions, according to paleoclimate, where a 4-6 C temperature increase is locked in.

Rapidly Moving Into an Ever More Dangerous Future


(Alberta Tar Sands. Just one major unconventional fuels project rapidly pushing the world toward climate change game over. Image source: Water Defense.)

That the current pace of change in unprecedented is probably an understatement. Human beings and governments need to come to grips with the ever-more-dangerous world they are creating for themselves, their children and grandchildren. Focus should now be put on preventing as much harm as possible. And all government action should be aimed at that result.

There is no greater threat presented by another nation or set of circumstances that supersedes what we are now brazenly doing to our environment and the Earth System as a whole. And the rate at which we are causing the end level of damage to increase is practically unthinkable. Each further year of inaction pushes us deeper into that dangerous future.


The Keeling Curve

Tropics Found to Release Two Gigatons of Carbon Each Year

Arctic Sea Ice Melt, Methane Release Shows Amplifying Feedbacks to Human Caused Climate Change

What Does a World at 400 Parts Per Million CO2 Look Like Long Term?

The Emissions Gap Report

The Conversation

Water Defense

Leave a comment


  1. Also in the news today: Big thaw projected for Antarctic sea ice: Ross Sea will reverse current trend, be largely ice free in summer by 2100 (

    • Saw that! Very interesting!

    • Bob. Did you hear about Tim Cook, Apple CEO, facing down climate change denier shareholders?

      “We do a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive,” the Tim Cook said. “We want to leave the world better than we found it.”

      We need more CEOs who think this way.

  2. My take is we’re jumping right to the Oligocene!! … being at 3-ppm/year gain if that stays constant we hit 750-ppm in 2134, just sayin’ it’s out-of-control at the moment.

  3. Mark Archambault

     /  February 28, 2014


    You’re pounding out the stories so fast this week I can’t keep up – but that’s a GOOD thing ;-).

    I see that the daily level has dropped back down to 397.38

    Apparently there’s quite a bit of day to day and weekly variation in CO2 levels at Mauna Loa. Has the range of such short term variation gotten wider over the years, or is this ‘normal’? Is this variation due to the observatory’s location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?

    • It seems logical to assume that Mauna Loa is more affected by land-based variations than in the past, and that the rate-of-change since 1980 will be expected to be exponentially rising from other indicators. The stark statistic is overall forcing, it’s 32% higher than 1990:

      Also, isn’t the atmosphere saturated with CO2, so how does that affect daily-to-seasonal variations?

    • The up down has always been pretty large but the amplitude has been found to increase of late. Part of this may be due to huge and growing outputs from Asia. Ocean saturation can also play a role. Vegetative response is uneven. Fires… Local emission shouldn’t be driving the amplitude quite so high. But that is increasing as well. Note that daily averages link to highs and lows. So the next daily average, if the value goes down, will be near 400 ppm.

      We didn’t get hourlies at 400 ppm until late April of last year…

    • Danabanana

       /  March 3, 2014

      “I see that the daily level has dropped back down to 397.38 ”

      Not that it matters on the whole scheme of things…. get used to numbers above 400ppm as the norm withing a couple of years. By then the rarity will be the daily CO2 level going below 400pp. Interesting times.

      • February through July/August should see some values above 400 ppm given the trend. It’s worth noting that average values for the Arctic are 400 ppm+ right now. So we have more ghg overburden there.

        Mallard had questioned where the methane/co2 was coming from. We have ocean sources that contribute methane now and we have the thawing permafrost. The Yedoma region alone provides the emissions of a moderate sized industrial country.

  4. Burgundy

     /  February 28, 2014

    Paul Beckwith is envisaging 7m sea level rise by 2070 based on past climate states and current warming trend. He believes we’re already experiencing abrupt climate change and rapid sea level rises of up to a meter every 20 years have occurred before during prior events.

    Interestingly, he also thinks human migration will be caused by rising sea levels, rather than by increased temperatures.

    I’m beginning to think our future is going to look something similar to Britain during the second world war. Infrastructure constantly wrecked, energy shortages, food rationing and industry, resources and manpower re-purposed to fight an increasingly hostile climate. Refuges being pushed into already crowded areas due to flooding and intemperate weather, with mass casualties occurring due to extreme events. Global trade and imports severely disrupted and war time like authoritarian regimes controlling every aspect of our lives. Possibly even mass conscription to provide the manpower necessary to keep the country moving and functioning.

    • The loci for migration is pretty broad:

      Sea level rise.
      Zones of very extreme weather.
      Loss of water.
      Loss of food.
      Loss of infrastructure.
      Loss of transportation nodes.
      Economic collapse.
      Isolation from the global trade system.
      Warfare related to resources.
      Loss of cash crops for non-diversified economies.

      Climate change is a resource wrecker as well as an environment changer. So poverty related issues will drive migration as well as the expanding zones where people simply can no longer habitate.

      As for 7 meters, by 2070, that would be extraordinary and well in line with a worst case sensitivity.

      It’s worth noting that sea level rise ramps up as glacial systems undergo collapse and that the initial ramp up is generally slow. After that time, the big jumps start to occur.

      So Paul is betting on lots of glaciers and ice sheets becoming involved very rapidly. I hope not. But it could happen.

      • I think of glacial collapse as being like defrosting a freezer. It drips and drips for quite awhile, and then suddenly a big piece falls off the roof, and after that it’s just little bits around the edges gradually disintegrating.

        • Good analogy. If you look at the end of the last ice age, we had gradual rise, then a huge pulse for about 25 centuries, then a plateau.

      • Burgundy

         /  March 2, 2014

        Robert, what do you make of this article by Malcolm P.R. Light:

        I don’t know enough about what he’s discussing to take a view on it. Although his conclusions are about the most alarming and extreme things I’ve ever read:

        “This curve fixes the time when the 8°C atmospheric temperature anomaly will be exceeded indicating that total deglaciation and major extinction will occur by about 2053 (Figure 10).”

        “The buildup of the global atmospheric methane concentration (Figure 11) indicates that the oceans should start to boil off at 115°C to 120°C when the atmospheric methane concentration anomaly exceeds 20,000 ppb (20 ppmv) by 2080. The atmospheric temperatures will approach those on the surface of Venus (460°C to 467°C) when the atmospheric methane concentration anomaly reaches 80,000 ppb (80 ppmv) by 2100 (Figure 11).”

        • We don’t have any convincing scientific evidence to support such an event. All responses would be much worse than anything seen in paleoclimate or modeled to produce such a result so soon.

          I’d put the probability of this kind of response, given current evidence, at far less than 1 percent. We may have a large methane release in that time period (10 to 20 percent). But you need to have practically all the methane stores release and add in a number of additional very strong feedbacks to get to a Venus style runaway by 2100.

          BAU likely gets us to around 5 to 9 C warming by 2100 not approx 400 C. But this pace of warming is bad enough and puts us rapidly into the context of the PETM and Permian events.

        • It’s also worth noting that four doublings of methane to 20 ppmv don’t support a total ocean warming of 80 C plus.

          For Malcolm to support these findings, he would need other, very large heat forcings and feedbacks.

          Let’s consider 20 ppm methane in the current sensitivity understanding… If we were to be so unlucky to reach such a high level so soon we end up with a heat forcing of 2000 ppm co2e if, somehow, those levels are sustained. This is probably enough to support 16 to 18 C warming long term. Adding on the CO2 that is rational for the period, and we get another 4-6 C long term for a total of 20 to 24 C.

          This is well past even Permain values but is still not enough to boil the oceans.

          It’s also worth noting that thermal inertia would slow the rate of temperature rise until all the ice is melted. I see that Malcolm has the ice gone by mid century. But his calculation doesn’t appear to take into account the negative feedback from ice melt and fresh water release along with ice berg cooling which would slow the heat amplification down dramatically.

          The endlessly upward slope is very difficult to support.

      • @Burgundy – Having seen some stuff by Malcolm Light in the past, I’m inclined to write off all his stuff as basically junk. It’s contaminated by too much non science presented as science.

      • Phil

         /  March 3, 2014

        I think they use fourth degree polynomials to project various trends which give the massive exponential growth trends as well.

        My personal view is that using these as a forecast or projection device is not the best approach because they do not provide any underlying explanation or model for what is driving the change.

        Another example is the exponential decline is arctic sea ice volume. I would not use that as a forecasting tool in its own right unless you had some back-up from actual models of the process backing this up such as extrapolations from PIOMASS or US Navy model or some other detailed model. Since 2007 and especially after 2012, the sea ice is very vulnerable but what happens from year to year is also largely affected by weather patterns, cyclones, etc. This variability is not likely to be reflected in curve fitting algorithms but could potentially be included in the detailed models.

        You can manipulate parameters in curve fitting algorithms to fit historical data, but this provides no underlying explanation of the process driving the change or projecting this process out, especially if the process is non-linear, or you are potentially entering a new regime where the past might not be a very good guide to what unfolds in the future.

        • Just because a process is non linear doesn’t mean it will fit the curve. It’s one of the reasons I don’t have a high probability on the early sea ice decline potentials (2016, 2017 near zero). But it is still far more possible than what Light is describing. I honestly don’t believe there’s a strong scientific basis in his analysis.

      • Phil

         /  March 3, 2014

        The other thing is that the research does not seem to be peer reviewed although certainly the latest contribution is very recent, just being published on the arctic news web-site. However, many references of his and Sam Carana included in the references appear to be just blog entries at this stage. One would have more confidence if the material has been peer reviewed by technical specialists in those areas.

      • Phil

         /  March 3, 2014

        Robert, I agree with your views on arctic sea ice. It is, at least, very vulnerable to further reductions including further discrete negative reductions as in 2007 and 2012. The issue is with the timing or time horizon which will depend upon such factors as weather and storms among other things.

        Generally, fitting exponential trend by itself cannot capture these aspects in a forecasting context because they do not contain covariates – actual variables capable of explaining the reduction in volume or extent of sea ice. Using time series techniques would also be problematical given the discrete reductions in 2007 and 2012. After those two discrete changes, it is questionable whether these statistical techniques could be used because of structural change in the underlying process – e.g. the statistical properties of the data prior to 2007 might no longer be a good guide to what is happening post 2007.

        If we have entered the ‘new normal’ or ‘new anomaly’, this has serious implications for statistical modelling because we have then entered into the domain of structural change in the uderlying processes – structural change that is also not necessarily evolving smoothly or slowly.

        A similar situation would be economic modelling and forecasting after the GFC. The structure and relationships evident in data prior to the GFC might no longer be a very good guide or indicator in modelling and forecasting economic trends post GFC.

        Anyway, 2016-2017 is not too far away so it will be interesting to see how things pan out over the next couple of years as far as the arctic sea ice is concenrned.

        • In two more years the Arctic methane releases will be so high no one will have any doubts what the future will be, runaway greenhousing, what we do about CO2 hardly matters anymore, unless emissions are reduced to zero by next weekend of course, that’d be nice …

        • Oh what we do with CO2 now is absolutely critical. It’s the difference between a 10,000 year problem and a 10 million year excession.

          Think of it this way…

          2-4 C is bad but probably survivable by humans.

          4-6 C is very bad and calls survivability into serious question.

          7-12 C forces humans to attempt to live through, at best, a PETM type event, at worst, a Permain.

          Methane release, in this context, is a feedback of the overall long term CO2 forcing. The base level of CO2, in the ideal sense, determines the end level of methane. It’s one of the primary reasons why climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 is probably 6 C and not 3 C. The long term warmth generated by the higher CO2 level drives more of the methane out. And this, in addition to other Earth changes explains the sensitivity we see in Paleoclimate.

          Some of the methane will probably come out. But how much depends largely on the long-term forcing (primarily CO2).

          For a kind of endlessly amplifying release of methane to emerge, the stores and sensitivity would have to line up in a domino like fashion. We don’t see that in paleoclimate. Even in the Permian. During even the worst events, we see evidence of a high background emission and a few very large pulses. Not an escalating and ongoing series.

          In any case, even a relatively moderate pulse would be very bad. So it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on. But there is no evidence for the kind of methane sensitivity that would render atmospheric CO2 moot. To the contrary, CO2 is critical.

        • Well said. Unfortunately, I believe every year going forward is likely to be high drama.

          I think there’s a small chance for a sea ice crash in 2014, if weather lines up. Not large. But it’s there.

          It’s also worth noting that most recent year measures wag the trend tail pretty viciously at approach to zero. For example, curve fitting from 2007 showed a potential for zero sea ice at end summer by 2012-2014. Same process post 2012 end summer showed zero sea ice by 2014-2015 (volume). Now the exponential line is coming down around 2017 while the linear line hits 2032. I think that probably gives us a good shape of the most likely range.

          I’ve said this quite a bit, but I also believe major melt increases from Greenland may produce some rather odd results.

        • The sea-ice has lost its functionality regardless of extent or volume, it no longer keeps the Arctic Ocean from warming on a yearly basis such that it can’t refreeze the bottom because the water isn’t going below 0C in winter to -2C where it needs to be so melts the sea-ice from below all winter, keeping it thinner than normal.

          So, in the fall the water tries to give up the extra heat but the cold air forms sea-ice and that becomes an insulator and prevents the ocean from cooling more, then it breaks up more easily in spring. Then, the fact that the bottom is thawing is shown by the huge releases of methane when a lot of cracking appears in the sea-ice year round, if you put in Jan 1 to Mar 1 to the 1750ppb tab on this page, there’s still a lot of readings over 1950ppb shown in areas of sea-ice in the Arctic:

          Pretty much proof of the warm sea, not certain the source of the methane except by current transport and getting trapped by the ice temporarily as it’s moving toward the Atlantic. Then for this year, Greenland’s ice density is running at about 2012-2013’s pattern so far:

      • Phil

         /  March 3, 2014

        Re. ttmallard, methane emissions seem to be certainly up from around this time last year and well ahead of where the IPCC says we are. Whether the current levels represent a ‘burp’ or a ‘belch I cannot tell mainly because I am not familiar with the historical record especially from satellite measurements, let alone at what levels above normal or average would constitute such things. This, in my case, can also be extended to temperature anomalies – for example, have previous arctic winters experienced anomalies similiar to this winter – e.g. how different is the ‘new normal’ from the ‘old one’?

        Certainly, in a similar manner to arctic sea ice, the situation wrt arctic methane emissions seems to have deteriorated, and the confluence of ‘local’ emerging factors such as positive temperature anomalies, decline in sea ice extent and volume (and increased heat absorption in summer), increased methane emissions, more severe and unusual weather patterns/storms, etc, is not likely to have any stabilising effect, but the converse.

        In economics, these affects refer to ‘simultaneity bias’ which has its own specific brand of statistical methods and problems/complications.

      • Phil

         /  March 3, 2014

        YThe time horizon out to 2030 seems a good choice to me at this stage – better than out to 2050.

  5. The intense focus on Co2, without adding in the dramatic increase in atmospheric Methane, greatly understates the current situation.

    Atmospheric Methane is up the equivalent of 100 ppm over the last 100 years.

    Although Methane has only a 7 year half life, its the CURRENT amount in the atmosphere that traps heat at appx. HUNDRED TIMES that of Co2.

    Therefore, the amount of atmospheric methane must be multiplied by 100 to get a Co2 equivalent parts per million.

    CONCLUSION: The combined heat trapping Co2 and Methane concentrations = 500 ppm, NOT 400!!

    Please add in Methane concentrations in order to make comparisons with historical periods!!

    • Thanks for the input.

      As noted in the article, I believe my estimates are conservative. I include mention of atmospheric methane in the assessment and note that the current warming effect is probably cancelled out by aerosols. But that this additional forcing would remain for a time after aerosols were removed.

      This assessment is in agreement with reports that find CH4 radiative forcing at between .4 and .8 watts per meter squared (Schmidt, IPCC). And aerosol negative forcing at .4 to .7 watts per meter squared. (NASA, IPCC). By comparison, the forcing from CO2, which is a long-term forcing, is now edging just over 1.5 watts per meter squared — likely twice that of methane and likely to last for centuries to come.

      My best case scenario is based on a cold turkey cessation of all fossil fuel burning and atmospheric ghg gas release possible (total mitigation), including human methane release. Under such conditions, the atmospheric forcing from human methane sources would drop as methane is oxidized in the stratosphere. The feedback emission is likely not yet high enough to maintain levels, so levels would fall under this best case, probably lagging a bit behind aerosols.

      That said, all carbon feedback would likely at least be enough to keep CO2 and related methane levels in a range to support at least 2-3 C warming even under the cold turkey scenario. Which is why I use the words ‘at least!’

      In any case, as those who frequent will attest, I hardly ignore the methane issue…

      Otherwise, I invite you to take a look at this:

  6. Robert, I was not criticizing your work, which I find to be extremely educational.

    Let me ask you a question about aerosols, which I assume are the pollutant particulates that block out the sun in some cities in China.
    These seem to be mainly concentrated in the lower atmosphere, and mainly concentrated in extremely heavily polluted cities in China, India, etc.

    Volcanic explosions can send aerosols high into the atmosphere, which can greatly reduce solar energy.

    But, pollution aerosols are NOT seen in heavy concentrations in the Arctic.

    Clearly, the Arctic is the most important feedback loop, with the potential for a methane explosion.

    Therefore, I completely disagree with the notion that the heavy aerosols from coal burning/diesels cancel out the 1,000 ppB increase in Methane from the base levels in prior centuries.

    As you point out, the albedo affect in the arctic has been far greater than understood until the Scripps research.

    While the Arctic ice coverage is already substantially less, it will be totally gone at the current melt rate within a few years, which will explode the amplification.

    Methane concentrations can be seen to be substantially higher in the Arctic, combined with practically no aerosols.

    As you have rightfully pointed out, the Arctic is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine”.

    I maintain, that the total heat trapping gases in the Arctic are now at a 500ppm Co2 equivalent, and NOT at the 400 level.

    If Methane release over the arctic is already accelerating now, what happens in a few short years, when there is NO summer ice at all in the arctic?

    The thickness of the arctic ice has declined even more dramatically than the total square mile area of decline.

    Therefore, a total elimination of Arctic ice will happen much faster than expected.


    2) 500ppm Co2 in the Arctic is already here today!

    3) The 2013-2014 winter melting of Arctic ice is a sign that the tipping point is past!

    4) Arctic Methane will explode over the next decade!

    5) It is highly doubtful that humans will be able to stop the Arctic Methane explosion.

    6) The Arctic Methane amplification will feed on itself increasing the rate of release in a runaway fashion.

    The Arctic Methane emergency group has been discussing this for quite awhile… and now I understand why they feel its an emergency.

    Thousands of square miles of ocean spouting Methane into the atmosphere, appears to be an insurmountable problem….

    The “Nuclear winter” solution may be our only alternative…..

    • Ken,

      A lot of this is rather outrageous.

      First, the primary aerosol is sulfur dioxide which is not ‘heavy’ and ends up in all levels of the atmosphere through mixing and is distributed worldwide by atmospheric currents.

      The heavy particles you mention have a positive forcing, for the most part. That said the net forcing for aerosols is negative and it is global. The poles may behave a bit differently. But we expect to have a degree of amplification there and that is what we see.

      Now it is certainly true that the local forcing is higher than the global forcing for many reasons. Some of these are unique to human causes. But we don’t know exactly how that relates to the overall picture. In short, we can say that the global forcing is currently around 400 ppm, with an abnormally strong Arctic feedback and related unique response that is very concerning.

      Second, AMEG raises some valid concerns. That said, an attempt to shift sole focus to methane is, at the very least, myopic. Further, the push for geo-engineering is difficult to reconcile with a large body of data showing that many such actions are either ineffective or harmful. This is not the disparage the risk of methane release. Quite the opposite. The best means to prevent one or more large release events is to rapidly mitigate and to work on a wide range of additional solutions that maximize mitigation’s overall effect.

      In any case, there are many, many actions we could take that would be far more helpful than nuclear winter. To say that’s an ‘option’ without first attempting mitigation or putting resources toward carbon removal is, at the very least, irresponsible.

      • Want a realistic solution that’s simple? … recycle water by using algae to purify and remove nutrients in wastewater effluent, already used as a feedstock in biodiesel production. That produces about 2-gal/day per person on a municipal system.

        Recycled water, biodiesel from wastewater is global in scope, biodiesel runs in any IC-engine on the planet and the whole process removes CO2 and emits O2 locally doing it so should cut global emissions significantly.

        For Phoenix, AZ, that’s about 3M-gal/day in biodiesel, was selling for $1.79 if you drive to the plants that make it, most is used for heating oil, being kept out of gas stations so can’t be distributed well without co-operatives that buy gas station locations, a big ask.

        • What’s most annoying to me is we haven’t given solutions a full effort. We remain bound by special interests who wield far too much political power and whose only interest is monetary profit. It’s almost as if the entire political system is perfectly designed not to deal with any problem unless it is a short term threat to the business community or involves an act of war or something else that is generally destructive.

        • Cheers T.

          Just for general understanding, biofuel is generally net carbon neutral due to the fact that the biological process captures carbon from the atmosphere first before it is put back into the atmosphere by burning. So it’s a recycling process.

          The fossil carbon in fossil fuels was captured from the atmosphere long ago and the process does not involve any carbon recycling. So from the point of view of climate change, biofuels are better than fossil fuels so long as they have little in the way of fossil fuel inputs.

          Now there are a number of other issues arising from some forms of biofuel use — land use and use of food as fuels. These are separate issues that need to be addressed accordingly.

          This was a point Ken brought up. A good point. But the manner in which he brought it up was too trollish and not in the spirit of an honest discourse. So I’ve blocked him.

          As to his repeated 500 ppm assertion. That is somewhat incorrect. Even if we were to drop all the aerosols out, total forcing would be in the range of 440 to 480 ppm CO2e. This is still much higher than comfort. But we can’t consider this a constant forcing in the way we consider CO2 a constant forcing as many of the additional components are short-lived.

          Considering that we won’t stop burning fossil fuels is also a moot point from the perspective of mitigation. Mitigation assumes a cessation/reduction of burning and therefore a comparatively rapid drop in forcing agents other than CO2.

          Lastly… the methane monster is a very serious concern. As mentioned many times, it’s making disturbing noises. But it hasn’t fully come out yet. If it does, we can at least add another .5 to 1.5 C of warming with each episode. But we’re not there yet. And we’d probably like to prevent as many such methane monster breakouts as possible. Hence the discussion RE mitigation.

      • Robert, I think you misunderstand my position.

        First of all, please provide some actual data regarding aerosol reduction of heat in the arctic.

        The episodes of actual heat reduction are generally limited to large volcanic eruptions, or large asteroids strikes of earth.

        I am NOT suggesting Nuclear winter as a serious alternative.

        I was suggesting that once the Arctic methane bomb gathers steam, I simply do NOT see a viable way of stopping it… ex of a “nuclear winter” which would be almost as bad.

        I am simply trying to point out that how far past the tipping point we are already appear to be….

        Does that mean we should stop trying? Of course not!

        But, the situation is a lot more grave than most people are willing to admit!

        Again, I challenge you to show proof of the actual amount of heat reducing aerosols in the Arctic!

        Otherwise, I stand by point: Co2 + Methane = 500ppm NOW!

        Nobody wants to admit it !!!


          Anthropogenic aerosol distribution as per NASA. As you can see, this is primarily northern hemisphere with a good portion directly over the North Pole.

          In any case, if we are to believe NASA and IPCC, the total forcing from all ghg is in the range of 1.5 to 1.9 watts per meter squared. This includes the aerosol reduction of .4 to .8 watts per meter squared negative forcing. And even if we were to take out the negative aerosol forcing, we end up with a total forcing equal to around 440 to 480 CO2e. But the aerosol forcing is there globally as a net negative even if the Arctic behaves differently. So here we sit at about 400 ppm C2 with everything taken into account. Not 500 ppm.

          This is dangerous enough by itself and worthy of serious concern. Dangerous enough to risk large methane release. Something we should all be made aware of and something we should certainly research more in depth. And certainly something we should do everything to prevent. But let’s not overstate an already very difficult problem.

          I’m going to have to ask you to tone it down and not make unsupported, accusatory statements or I will consider this trolling.

      • mikkel

         /  March 2, 2014

        That NASA map shows averaged annual concentrations. I found many papers (alluded to in comments below) that suggest this is a terrible way of interpreting aerosol dynamics.

        That said, I don’t think we are at 500ppm equivalent anywhere, we’re at 400ppm! This is turning out to be far worse than previously anticipated.

        Also Ken has a math error. He says that methane has increased 1000ppb and since it’s 100x strong that is equal to 100ppm CO2. This is incorrect because forcing is logarithmic. With CO2 forcing at 3.7W/m^2 per doubling, then 400-500 ppm is adding nearly 1W/m^2. By contrast, the 1000ppb rise has lead to only a bit over 0.5W/m^2

        That said, methane is a likely candidate for rapid increase in *net* forcing. As your posts have pointed out, it’s not unthinkable to have a rise in concentration that leads to another 0.5W-1W/m^2 pretty rapidly, which would still make it less than CO2 forcing, but the net effect would be to raise the imbalance enormously (25-40%). Similarly, a decrease in aerosols will lead to a very rapid imbalance increase.

  7. lanikk

     /  March 1, 2014

    Why oh Why do I read your blog just before bedtime?

  8. Weir Bohnd

     /  March 1, 2014

    Sorry to interrupt, but I thought you might wish to read what Tim Garrett and collaborators have discovered regarding arctic aerosols and their effect on warming. Not exactly what you expect.

  9. mikkel

     /  March 1, 2014

    “but in the Arctic, sea ice already reflects most sunlight, whether or not clouds are present.
    Moreover, the air is most polluted during the long winter night. We found that pollution in
    the Arctic makes clouds act more efficiently as thermal insulators.”

    I dunno, there was a recent model proclaiming that sulfur dioxide won’t work as geoengineering because of this very reason ( I can see increased aerosols acting as an insulator that speeds up melting in the way described.

    I disagree with this conclusion though: “This suggests that as the Arctic becomes warmer and wetter it may also become cleaner, pointing paradoxically to a negative feedback on the warming trend”

    In reality it’d just deposit the pollution onto the snow/ice and lower its albedo, right?

    • mikkel

       /  March 1, 2014

      The reply didn’t work, both those excerpts are from the link Weir posted.

    • There are a few conclusions here that get a bit into the weeds and miss the larger picture or seem to be based on strange assumptions.

      My opinion is that the larger forces at play are albedo loss and polar carbon release. Local positive aerosol feedback (black carbon) pushes at the margins.

      Sulfate does result in net cooling globally but you can start to reach saturation points. And I think sulfate would play a larger role as sea ice declined.

      As far as a wet climate reducing black aerosol content, the effect is questionable. On ice sheets, specifically, more rain results in darkening. And that doesn’t even begin to take into account that water vapor traps heat.

      • mikkel

         /  March 1, 2014

        Treating the sulfates as a perfect mirror shows that algebraically, it’s always better to have them than not. However, I couldn’t find a good frequency response curve (and it seems to be highly dependent on particle size) so it is possible that it could act as an insulator in the way described.

        Nonetheless, there is major disparity in concentration and forcing is immensely strong over industrial areas.

        • NASA and IPCC show them as a strong negative forcing with high concentrations in the northern hemisphere. I don’t believe there’s a solid rationale to doubt this assessment.

      • mikkel

         /  March 1, 2014

        Eastern China is extraordinary.

        Anthropogenic sulfate induces a negative top-of-the-atmosphere (TOA) radiative forcing which varies spatially from −1 to −8 W m−2 in the winter to −1 to −15 W m−2 in the summer. The aerosol radiative forcing is maximum over the Sichuan Basin of southwest China and over some areas of east and northeast China. This forcing induces a surface cooling in the range of −0.1 to −0.7 K that is also maximum over the Sichuan Basin.

        I also found similar papers for Europe and the US suggesting upwards of -6W/m2 in the summer. I would not be so quick to dismiss that a major reason for rapid warming over the Arctic could be do to relative lack of sulfates.

        • Arctic amplification has many elements involved. Sulfate only focus is taking out a number of important factors. There seems to be a tendency to overplay one factor.

          I don’t see a compelling reason to either increase or decrease the importance of sulfate in the broader context of human warming.

      • mikkel

         /  March 2, 2014

        Something else I just realized is that over all the industrial areas, the negative forcing is by far the greatest in the summer. However, the Arctic is largely free of sulfates in the summer so does not get this benefit. It has large concentrations in the winter, when there isn’t any solar radiation to reflect anyway, so it would be reflecting released heat radiation.

        It seems there is a double whammy: the Arctic haze in the winter/early spring has net insulating effect, due to both reflection by sulfates and absorption by black carbon, but then in the summer it precipitates onto the ice sheets and lowers the albedo on them without having much atmospheric albedo change.

        The more papers I am skimming, the more it becomes evident that time and regional dependent aerosols are a gigantic piece of the puzzle.

  10. Gary Boates

     /  March 2, 2014

    As you know, a source of energy to replace 93,000,000 barrels of crude per day is significant. The only possible solution that is ready to go is what I have been trying to promote. It is a very promising small scale nuclear powered electricity generator. It was called Hyperion Nuclear Battery. It used spent fuel rods or recycled nuclear warheads albeit it had to have an isotope shift – americium I believe. It was small and non lethal and not weapons grade. It was terrorist proof and it did not require an electrical grid which reduces current transmission losses to zero, just local distribution. This latter point is of great strategic importance to energy security. An enemy cannot take down America’s power grids – there would be none. And here is why it was demonized and buried: It cost $12m and it powered 35,000 homes. At today’s rates it paid for itself in 3 years. Because it had a lifespan of 10 years it could generate positive revenues for its owners for 7 years before it was replaced. It was the size of a hot tub and could be buried in crushed rock or sand making it very resistant to direct attack.

    It was finally approved in the US by DOT for use a few years back. I contacted the Canadian nuclear energy commission for use in Canada and it was not insurmountable… However it basically disappeared.

    The man speaking in the video link below is a very conservative and cautious individual speaking on how nuclear energy has been demonized by the Big Oil people…

    I would be interested in hearing positive solutions that may be deployed on a scale and within a time frame that could stop what we all have set in motion.

  11. After reading this thread, I am reminded of “52 Card Pick-up”. Where the cards of the old game are launched into the room , and the old game ends. And only after all the cards are picked up, can the new game begin.
    It would seem we are in that phase where all the cards are still being launched into the room.

    • Now that’s funny.

      I’m old enough to know that joke.

      “Hey, you want to play a card game? It’s called 52 pickup.”

      “Okay, sure!”

      (throws all the cards up into the air). “Go ahead, pick them up!”

  12. I would add that peak CO2 readings at Mauna Loa used to happen in May , due to the cycle of plant life in the Northern Hemisphere.. This Feb. number breaks a very old pattern.

  13. Steve Miller Band – Livin’ In The USA (with lyrics)

    • “Somebody give me a cheeseburger”

    • I don’t eat cheeseburgers any more, but if you were here I’d offer you a piece of this chocolate bar, the production and distribution of which doubtless involved the burning of a substantial amount of fossil fuel, the enslavement of various and sundry humans, and the wanton murder of myriad nonhuman lives.

      It’s pretty good chocolate, though.

      • Are we in the place where the kids are hip yet?

        It used to be where one suffered alone to be hip. Now , suffering alone is group experience. “52 card Pick-Up”.

      • I squirm a bit reading your comment. I buy fair trade (on the cusp of my projected yuppiedom, I guess)/rainforest certified, but nevertheless, the fuel cost of transportation was doubtless quite high. I wonder if I should cut the chocolate and start drinking tea instead…

        • It’s really hard to just drop out of your culture and all it entails. One is endlessly outside the candyshop window looking in.

          I still remember a stunning cheeseburger I ate in the 1980’s at an upscale burger shop in West L.A. in the 1980’s. Rare and choice. I’ve probably eaten five hamburgers in the last 20 years. The last one was so bad I fed most of it to my dog.

          But there is something to be said for not indulging in a lot of cheap versions of such things, and instead considering them special occasions and going for quality, and conservation both. I have yet to find an organic/fair trade chocolate I really like, though.

  14. Back to my theory that the very smallest things are getting to vote on climate change-
    Thanks to Climate Change, West Nile Virus Could Be Your New Neighbor

    A new study shows how climate change will contribute to the spread of the mosquito-borne West Nile virus

    Read more: Climate Change Will Help Spread West Nile Virus |

    • The sliver lining in this ,…. the deniers and big dogs get bit just like the rest of us.

      • I have absolutely got to get on top of importing spiders. When I raised them the food was always getting loose and we had pholcids and steatodes coming out of our ears. Mosquitoes and house flies didn’t stand a chance indoors.

    • Mark Archambault

       /  March 2, 2014

      Hello Bob,

      Love your comments. Regarding emergent diseases, I’m also very concerned about Lyme Disease (which I’ve successfully beaten back with the help of a good doctor over a few years). The black-legged tick is spreading north in the eastern US, and now even inland locations that rarely had Lyme Disease in the past are now hotspots like Cape Cod and the southern NE coast.

      Moose in northern New Hampshire and Maine are wasting away from blood loss due to the Moose Tick, and therefore the population of our state mammal is now declining after decades of a growing population.

      Any survivors of the collapse of our industrial civilization will have to cope with a whole range of warming enhanced diseases, perhaps without antibiotics and modern medicine. A scary prospect.

      • We evolved out of Africa, which surely has its fair share of infectious and parasite-driven diseases. All other wildlife has vectors that keep their populations in control. If we can’t figure out how to do so in a more benign way, it’s better than planetary extermination.

  15. We already have West Nile here, albeit rarely. I am more concerned about the Corvidae than the rest of us.

    El Niño coming, maybe we can have malaria. I mean, why not?

  16. It’s the very small things of life that I am watching, now. They are on the move , they are nimble , we are not. They will cut our throats. In just a matter of weeks,

    • The El Niño is going to bump up change. Already-stressed plantlife, and more mobile small life. Yes indeedy.

  17. “52 Card Pick-up”.
    We set at the card table while the cards still float down from above, How can anyone make a bet ?
    The new game is far away .

  18. Miep –

    Well there you go , Bob Dylan changed our lives at the same time,

    • 🙂

      I was born in 1957 so I was always tagging along after y’all.

      But you were always the cohort I loved, my role models. It was sad to see when you went adrift, and it was wondrous to see when you were wondrous.

      And now you are gradually dying off – as are humans born in the 50’s, for that matter – but you’ll always be my elder brothers and sisters, since I had no others, eldest that I am, of all my half-siblings, step-siblings and cousins.

      Kinda maudlin, I know. But truth. Your generation imprinted upon me like ducks on a duckling.

  19. Here’s his best song many , many years later –

    Bob Dylan – Isis (1976)

  20. Miep –
    Everyone understands Isis .

  21. Anyway Colorado Bob, if you’re ever out this way into Radiation Leak land I would be pleased to make your acquaintance in person. I live messily and minimally but you don’t seem one to judge. You could be hell and I could likely manage breakfast. Like around dusk. You better like dogs. Odds are they’d like you.

    • I got my insurance bill yesterday , The Texas drought comes home to roast. And I’m a smelly old fool.

      • I have problematic teeth, tons of facial hair, and even more attitude. I don’t waste my time extending invitations of any sort to boring people. I’m very picky about that. I literally run tedious people off at times. I’m apparently kind of notorious for that.

        Smelly is what I have to deal with if I think anyone is coming around. Like I have to wash my sweatclothing.

        Money is something you gotta have in case you don’t die.

        So let’s get our priorities straight here. If you’re in the neighborhood, you want to visit, we can do this. You’re funky and eccentric, not a problem. You diss my established boundaries or are mean to nonhumans, that’s the last time I want you here.

        You aren’t all that far away and you sound pretty socially isolated, as am I, so I thought I’d bring this up. If this makes you uncomfortable, then let’s just let it go, and no worries.

  22. jyyh

     /  March 2, 2014

    Momentary values are one thing and the yearly values are another. I took the global monthly CO2 set (/ (link in the co2now site) and checked the trendline after 2004, as there was a slight acceleration of CO2 increase back then. Assuming current linear increase to continue, the yearly global value of 400ppm is reached in two years and one month, on Saturday, April the 2nd, 2016. I’ll expect to continue to produce this sort of trivia even afterwards.

    • Mark Archambault

       /  March 2, 2014

      Thanks for the extrapolation. It’ll be interesting to see how accurate it is when 2016 comes around. When will 450 ppm CO2 be reached?

      • Under BAU, 15-22 years.

      • Mark Archambault

         /  March 3, 2014

        Thanks for that Robert – I think. It’s stunning to ponder that people born around 1950 – 1960 will witness carbon dioxide levels increasing from about 320 ppm to 450 ppm. An incredible rate of change, which, as you have pointed out, is unprecedented even when compared to that leading up to the most severe mass extinction events. It’s almost too much to get one’s mind around.

      • jyyh

         /  March 3, 2014

        I’m not comfortable with extrapolating that far since there might be unforeseen responses… but in this case I’ll do an exception. With BAU it’s likely as Robert says. But, assuming there’s a similar increase in pace of CO2 accumulation as in 2004, the crossing of the 450ppm limit lands on Friday the 13th, March, 2037, 07:36PM. Remembering the Oscars, extrapolating, this would be about the time when 24rd movie of the franchise is half through making ;-).

      • Mark Archambault

         /  March 3, 2014

        jyyh, Friday the 13th, ha, how appropriate! Perhaps the creators of these horror movies c make one centered on climate change – like how everyday life will be in 2075 if we continue with BAU.

  23. Danabanana

     /  March 3, 2014

    @Phil “methane emissions seem to be certainly up from around this time last year and well ahead of where the IPCC says we are”

    In that case be prepared for another fantastic display of NLC’s 🙂

  24. Ancient “Giant Virus” Revived From Siberian Permafrost.

    Climate change could release more ancient viruses. Is there a risk to humans?
    Buried deep in the Siberian permafrost and untouched for over 30,000 years, researchers have discovered what is thought to be the newest representative of what are loosely known as “giant viruses.”

    A team led by Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel of Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France, made the discovery of the previously unknown virus, which has been dubbed Pithovirus sibericum and can be revived in the lab.

  1. We truly are a force to be reckoned with » Why Aren't You Outraged?
  2. Another Week of Anthropocene Antics, March 2, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered
  3. Another Week of Anthropocene Antics, March 2, 2014 [A Few Things Ill Considered] | Gaia Gazette

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