Article #65 Rising Carbon Dioxide Levels: A Global Context Examined

The carbon cycle on our planet has changed more since 1750 than it has in the previous 150 million years. Extraction of raw minerals and the burning of fossil fuels creates pollution that disrupts the carbon cycle while trees release oxygen into the air. It is no secret that climate change and rising Carbon Dioxide levels are interrelated, this problem has continued to increase dramatically in recent decades.

All of this extra carbon dioxide has to go somewhere other than inside planets and our oceans and what ends up happening is much of the carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere.

During 2011 about 45% of all carbon Dioxide produced from Greenhouse Gas emissions is in the Earth’s atmosphere, while the other 55% is stored in the oceans and plants across the globe. NASA experts believe that eventually 20% of all carbon dioxide ever produced on Earth will end up in the planet’s atmosphere for thousands of years.

Atmospheric concentration of CO2 is measured in parts per million or ppm. The NOAA website shows a graph that illustrates the average global CO2 levels. In 1958, carbon dioxide levels were at about 317 ppm, today, 60 years later, the number is now 408 ppm. This rise of about 100 ppm may not seem substantial but this means that the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen by over 30% in the 60 year time-frame.

It is very important for scientists to closely monitor these levels to understand how quickly they are rising and how fast the planet could potentially warm in the coming years. Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. which actually offsets the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmopshere. This is part of the reason why it is so critical to conserve the world’s forests, for this very reason the Amazon Rainforest is often referred to as the lungs of our planet.

This animation is a super computer model of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over a 1 year period in 2006. Carbon dioxide is the most crucial gas produced by human activity; about half of the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuel combustion remains in the atmosphere while the other half is absorbed by the land and our oceans. (Animation Credit: NASA Goddard via Youtube)


This graph measures the planet’s average carbon dioxide levels from 2005 to present day. The rise of 30ppm of carbon dioxide may seem insignificant but this is quite a drastic increase in just 12 years. (Graph Credit: NOAA via NASA Global Climate Change Website)
Above is a summary map of existing, emerging and potential regional, national and subnational carbon pricing initiatives (ETS and carbon tax). (Photo Credit: Meike Naumann; World Bank; Ecofys; Vivid Economics via Wikimedia Commons)