Key Hothouse Gas to Rise at Record Rate, Hit Near 408 Parts Per Million in 2016

For 2016 it appears that monthly concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) will hit a new peak near 408 parts per million at the Mauna Loa Observatory in April or May. Not only is this the highest concentration of this key heat-trapping gas ever recorded at Mauna Loa, but it is also the high water mark of what is likely to be the most rapid rate of annual CO2 increase ever seen.

Atmospheric CO2 407-408 ppm

(Atmospheric CO2 keeps being pushed into record ranges by a massive ongoing fossil fuel emission. Global hothouse gas levels are now high enough to begin resulting in various catastrophic changes such as rapid sea level rise, glacial destabilization, increasing instances of droughts, floods and wildfires, and declining ocean health. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

By 2014, a Century and a half of global fossil fuel burning had dumped an egregious amount of carbon into the world’s airs — forcing atmospheric CO2 levels to rise from about 275 parts per million in the mid 19th Century to a peak of around 401.5 parts per million during that year. By May of 2015, atmospheric CO2 levels peaked at around 403.8 parts per million. And by April of 2016, the monthly average concentrations of this heat-trapping gas had rocketed to near 407.6 parts per million. As atmospheric CO2 readings typically peak in May, we can expect a final top monthly average this year to range between 407.6 to 408 ppm — or 3.8 to 4.2 parts per million higher than during the same time in 2015. A total overall increase of around 133 parts per million since the 19th Century. A level of atmospheric carbon that — if it is maintained — is enough to increase global temperatures by nearly 3 degrees Celsius over the coming decades and centuries.

On the Edge of 1.5 C

(Atmospheric CO2 levels now approaching 410 parts per million are pushing global temperatures dangerously close to the 1.5 C threshold identified by scientists as marking a the first series of civilization-endangering climate tipping points. Maintaining CO2 levels near 410 parts per million risks 3 C warming long term. Continuing carbon emissions makes an already bad situation dramatically worse. Image source: Climate Central.)

These are now the highest atmospheric CO2 levels seen in the last 23 million years. And an annual rate of CO2 increase approaching 4 parts per million is unheard of for any time period in any geological record — even during the Permian hothouse extinction event which wiped out about 90 percent of life in the oceans and 75 percent of life on land. This very rapid rate of atmospheric CO2 increase is being spurred on by a fossil fuel based carbon emission now in the range of 13 billion tons each year (of which CO2 is the vast majority). That’s a rate of carbon addition more than ten times faster than the carbon spike that set off the Paleocene-Eocene hothouse mass extinction about 55 million years ago. A very dangerous rate of carbon accumulation that will generate increasingly severe and harmful geophysical changes over the coming years, decades and centuries. An event that, if it continues, could well be termed the mother of all carbon spikes.

New Record Rate of Increase For Hothouse Gas Concentrations as CO2 Emissions Level Off

Peak-to-peak rates of increase do not capture the full annual average accumulation, but it is an indicator. And for 2016, it appears the annual measure will jump by at least 3.5 parts per million. Previous record rises occurred last year (in 2015) and in 1998 when atmospheric carbon dioxide jumped by about 3 parts per million. Over the past decade, carbon dioxide has accumulated by about 2.2 parts per million each year. So, by any context, 2016 is looking pretty bad in that we’ll almost certainly see a new record pace of greenhouse gas accumulation.

Totten Glacier Plug in Antarctic Bathtub

(A recent study in Nature Geoscience found that continued fossil fuel burning and accumulation of atmospheric greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide risks the irreversible destabilization of Totten Glacier which would result in rapid sea level rise this Century. In total, the Totten Glacier covers an area the size of the southeastern US, is more than a mile thick and, if melted, would raise sea levels by 11 feet. Researchers found that the mouth of the Totten Glacier — holding back this gigantic pile of ice — is rapidly melting now. Image source: Nature Geoscience and The Washington Post.)

The causes of this amazing and dangerous jump in atmospheric CO2 rest entirely at the feet of the global fossil fuel industry — which continues to push through its various political allies and media agencies for expanded and extended burning of coal, oil, and gas. But despite numerous attempts by that destructive industry to stifle the pace of renewable energy adoption and to stymie efforts to increase energy efficiency, both efficiency and renewables have advanced and rates of carbon emission leveled off during 2014 and 2015.

What the industry has achieved, however, is continued delay of a more rapid rate of renewable energy adoption which has resulted in global carbon emissions maintaining at current record high ranges. And such a huge dump of carbon into the atmosphere and oceans would have inevitably resulted in new record rates of atmospheric CO2 increase being hit eventually.

IEA global carbon emissions

(Global CO2 emissions leveled off in a record range near 32 billion tons per year during 2014 and 2015. Increasing rates of renewable energy adoption and improvements in energy efficiency helped to drive this trend. However, 32 billion tons of CO2 each year [approximately 8 billion tons of the total 13 billion tons of carbon hitting the air each year when the molecular weight of non-carbon atoms such as oxygen is removed] is likely the most rapid pace of atmospheric CO2 accumulation in all of the deep history of the Earth. A stark statistic that lends urgency to rapidly drawing such a high annual emission rate down. Image source: International Energy Agency — Decoupling of Global Emissions and Economic Growth Confirmed.)

This year, a strong El Nino reduced the ability of oceans to uptake such a massive volume of pollution belching from the world’s smokestack and tailpipes. A variable warming of waters that put a lid on what is an already fading ocean carbon sink. In addition, comparatively small but significant carbon contributions in the form of increasing global wildfires, ramping permafrost thaw and burning, and increasing methane seeps now provide a visible amplifying feedback to the massive and unprecedented human greenhouse gas emission. A feedback that is bound to rapidly worsen if the literally insane human fossil fuel emission does not stop soon.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

Entering the Middle Miocene

Ten Times Faster Than a Hothouse Extinction

Decoupling of Global Emissions and Economic Growth Confirmed

Climate Central

Hat tip to Meteorology Meg

Hat tip to DT Lange

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50 Comments

  1. John McCormnick

     /  May 18, 2016

    Reality tells me all we can do from here on out is to slow the rate og global warming to give our children more time phase out carbon fuels and adapt to ever-changing ecocystems.

    Reply
  2. Jonathan Overpeck ‏@TucsonPeck 1h1 hour ago

    + get to know the Totten Glacier – it’s huge and much of it could end up in the ocean if AGW not curbed.

    Reply
  3. Cate

     /  May 18, 2016

    I keep reading this over and over: we are adding carbon at a rate that’s ten times faster than the carbon spike that led to the mass extinction 55 million years ago….

    Homo sapiens: a special kind of stupid.

    Reply
  4. Genomik

     /  May 18, 2016

    Researchers have designed an inventive test suggesting that the arguments commonly used by climate change contrarians don’t add up, not only according to climate scientists (we know what they think already) but also in the view of unbiased experts from other fields.

    The trick? Disguising the data — and its interpretation — as if it was part of an argument about something else

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/05/18/climate-change-doubters-really-really-arent-going-to-like-this-study/

    Reply
  5. Kalypso

     /  May 18, 2016

    Could we begin to consistently see a rise of CO2 by 3 ppm per year now? I ask this because while the majority of the rise of carbon dioxide is due to human emissions, I wonder if we’ve pushed ecosystems into a state where they have become carbon sources instead of sinks-that is we’ve already reached a point where ecosystems can substantially contribute to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. Or perhaps they can’t absorb as much CO2 as they had in the past before human induced warming.

    Reply
    • The carbon contribution from feedback sources is now less than 5 percent of the human emission. That’s not the primary contributor at this time to hitting above 3 ppm annual rates of increase. The primary contributor is the 13 billion ton per year human carbon emission. If that continues, we’ll have more years of 3 ppm annual increase simply due to ocean variability and the slow loss of the ocean as a carbon sink.

      The primary issue now is reducing the ridiculous human emission to zero and net negative. That’s the best response we could have at this time.

      Reply
      • Might be time to re-calcuate that 5% figure. How many billion tons of trees are on fire in Siberia and Canada right now? And once they have gone up into the air as CO2, they are no longer participating in the reaction CO2 + sunlight —-> more tree.

        Reply
        • Negative, ghostrider. The delta in the global carbon cycle due to warming is less than 5 percent of human carbon emissions. And it’s doubtful if the Earth system is even capable of coming close to the 13 billion ton annual coming from human sources. There’s no clear evidence that it has ever happened in paleoclimate.

  6. George W. Hayduke

     /  May 18, 2016

    As I think it is extremely important to stay abreast of the climate news put forth here. I have 2 children and reading these can bring me down, become introspective, enjoy the more important things more fully. I enjoyed this program from NPR’s Ted Talks Hour. Sometimes we all need a little optimism. Keep up the good work Robert, I try to share your blog with any one that will listen.

    http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/476490556/the-case-for-optimism

    Reply
    • Q: Just curious — are you any relation to Doug Peacock? His name is often associated with GW Hayduke.
      ‘One of Abbey’s most famous characters, Hayduke, from his book The Monkey Wrench Gang, was based partly on Doug Peacock.’
      – DemoNow May 12, 2009

      Reply
      • George W. Hayduke

         /  May 19, 2016

        @dtlange I’m no relation to Doug, but have spent time with him. He is a close friend of a friend. He is every bit of GW Hayduke once you get to know him! He is a champion of wild things and places. If you haven’t read it it I highly recommend Grizzly Years, great book. He co-wrote a book recently with his wife Andrea too another good read. Thanks for seeing the connection, George W. Hayduke has been my version of a superhero ever since high school when I first read The Monkeywrench Gang.

        Reply
    • We need a sense of urgency. And we have to tell some hard truths to get there.

      Reply
      • Skip

         /  May 19, 2016

        I also share your blogs with whomever might listen.

        The needed sense of urgency might materialize when a nice big chunk of ice goes ‘Ploosh!’ into the sea, raising immediately and unmistakably … say, a foot or more.

        Then there will be calls from all sectors for action. And by the time they actually get something put together and implement it, the oceans will probably rise enough to make the world’s ports no longer usable.

        And what with all the world’s political and economic problems, which look to get worse before they get any better, there probably won’t be enough ‘ooomph’ left to rebuild them.

        And finally, the whole fossil fuel thing will wind down substantially… or maybe even almost entirely…. because in such a world trying to raise any type of crop is going to be dicey, and sustaining livestock will probably be too costly to do.

        The prospect seems to be complete collapse of civilization.

        Reply
  7. Colorado Bob

     /  May 18, 2016

    Some Sri Lanka numbers.

    The highest rainfall of 260.2 mm during a lapse of 24 hours ending at 5.30 a.m. on Monday, May 16, was recorded in Katunayake.

    Colombo meanwhile, recorded a rainfall of 232.4 mm, while Ratmalana recorded a rainfall of 170. 8 mm.

    Rainfall of 131.1 mm was recorded from Ratnapura while Mannar recorded a rainfall of 173. 9 mm. Trincomalee recorded a rainfall of 182. 4 mm.

    Several areas in and around Colombo remain inundated hampering vehicular movement owing to heavy downpours.

    Link

    Reply
  8. Colorado Bob

     /  May 18, 2016

    Afghan Official: 20 Dead as Flash Floods Hits North

    Large parts of northern Afghanistan are often afflicted by flooding after heavy rains, as over-grazing and deforestation have made many areas vulnerable to natural disaster.

    The environmental degradation, which is largely unchecked across war-torn Afghanistan, has seen deadly landslides caused by heavy rain and snows in recent years.

    Link

    Reply
  9. Colorado Bob

     /  May 18, 2016

    As North sizzles, South, East under threat of heavy rain, floods
    Southwest monsoon hits Andaman and Nicobar Islands

    Heat wave conditions are continuing at many parts of central and northwest plains–Haryana, Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha–and the situation is not likely to get better anytime soon.

    The highest maximum temperature of 47.5°C has been recorded at Barmer in Rajasthan, says the IMD.

    Link

    Reply
  10. Wildfires near Seattle are earlier, faster and more intense than usual

    State officials are investigating the causes of two forest fires northeast of Seattle.

    With no lightning reported in the Oso or Gold Bar areas where the fires started, officials suspect they were caused by humans, either accidentally or intentionally.

    Scientists say a month of record-breaking hot, dry weather helped fuel the fires in the normally wet foothills of the Cascades. Global emissions of carbon dioxide, along with a strong El Niño, have helped turn up the thermostat locally and around the world.

    April was the seventh month in a row to break a global high-temperature record, according to figures released by NASA over the weekend.
    – kuow.org/post/wildfires-near-seattle-are-earlier-faster-and-more-intense-usual

    Reply
    • Here’s what wildfires in S Oregon looked like looking west from a bridge over the Columbia River Oct 2, 2012.

      Reply
  11. Colorado Bob

     /  May 18, 2016

    The last month Earth wasn’t hotter than the 20th-century average was December 1984, and the last time Earth set a monthly cold record was almost a hundred years ago, in December 1916, according to NOAA records.

    Read more at: Link

    Reply
    • It’s crushing evidence of a catastrophic rate of warming. The climate change deniers have no leg to stand on — factually, morally, or intellectually.

      Reply
      • Skip

         /  May 19, 2016

        Is it possible to gage the second order rate of change yet…? The rate that the rate is increasing?

        Reply
    • Colorado Bob

       /  May 18, 2016

      “These kinds of records may not be that interesting, but so many in a row that break the previous records by so much indicates that we’re entering uncharted climatic territory (for modern human society),” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler said in an email.

      At NOAA’s climate monitoring headquarters in Asheville, North Carolina, “we are feeling like broken records stating the same thing” each month, Sanchez-Lugo said.

      And more heat meant record low snow for the Northern Hemisphere in April, according to NOAA and the Rutgers Global Snow Lab. Snow coverage in April was 890,000 square miles below the 30-year average.

      Reply
  12. Colorado Bob

     /  May 18, 2016

    April 2016: Earth’s 12th Consecutive Warmest Month on Record
    By: Jeff Masters and Bob Henson

    https://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters/comment.html?entrynum=3305#commenttop

    Reply
  13. Colorado Bob

     /  May 18, 2016

    North America’s migratory birds are in ‘real trouble,’ report finds

    “This will come back to bite us if we don’t deal with it while we still have a chance.”

    The shrinking native grasslands that Sprague’s pipits shack up in every summer belong to a group of threatened ecosystems flagged in a massive new report released Wednesday on the state of North America’s imperilled bird populations. The report says one-third of the roughly 350 migratory bird species across the continent are approaching extinction at an unsettling pace.

    Link

    Reply
    • It’s the Silent Spring all over again.

      Reply
    • Skip

       /  May 19, 2016

      I heard Canadian Geese just once this winter.

      Fifty years ago there would be these huge flocks crossing the sky spring and fall.

      Back in the ’20’s, my father said, the flocks were so huge they would fill the sky.

      Reply
  14. Colorado Bob

     /  May 18, 2016

    Exxon’s Legal Woes Over Climate Change Just Got a New Twist

    A short stretch up the Mystic River from Boston Harbor, an oil transfer and storage station operated by ExxonMobil sits at the verge of a high-tide mark that is plainly visible along the blackened shoreline.

    That terminal in Everett, Mass., according to the Conservation Law Foundation, routinely violates the legal limits of the company’s federal operating permits, usually because of stormy weather. What’s more, the New England advocacy group says, the company is knowingly putting local people at risk in the face of imminent climate risks that could someday wash the Everett terminal away—storage tanks, impoundments, oil stockpiles, rickety docks, contaminated soils and all.

    Link

    Reply
  15. Colorado Bob

     /  May 18, 2016

    Reply
  16. Colorado Bob

     /  May 18, 2016

    Executives Running Collapsing Coal Companies Award Themselves Millions While Laying Off Workers

    Executives of the top coal-producing companies in the country got compensation increases while their companies spiraled into bankruptcy, laid off workers, or tried to slash employee benefits, a new report finds.

    Most top executives for Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources got compensation increases worth in total millions of dollars as the companies went into massive debt often due to fruitless expansions, the report released Tuesday by Public Citizen, an advocacy organization, found. In conjunction with the report, Public Citizen also sent letters to Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources chief executive officers urging them to invest their multi-million dollar bonuses in a trust fund for laid off workers.

    Link

    Reply
  17. greenman023

     /  May 19, 2016

    As all glaciers flow and the Totten has been restricted from doing so for several millennia, is it not therefore under some sort of ‘compression tension’?

    one assumes this glacier must be hunched up like a frozen crossbow bolt.

    So I’m curious..How fast do you think this thing is going to fly when that ice shelf trigger defrosts?

    Reply
    • Well greenman023, it’s going to be just like the inside of my old fridge when the power was off too long. First, a trickle of water in the bottom, then a big chunk of ice topples down on a lower shelf, causing it to melt a whole lot faster… and there’s a mega flood in the fridge and on the floor. Plus a lot of frozen food is destroyed. There you have it: fridge, earth, loss of cooling, same thing: big f*****g flood! 🙂 .

      Reply
  1. Key Hothouse Gas to Rise at Record Rate, Hit Near 408 Parts Per Million in 2016 | things I've read or intend to

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