Dramatic Rise In Greenhouse Gases In The Atmosphere: World Meteorological Organization


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Atmospheric carbon dioxide

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing yearly at an accelerated pace. Graphic courtesy of NOAA

To the surprise of almost no one, the total greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached an all-time high in 2013.

This is according to the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, published Sept. 9, 2014. But there is enough in the report to encourage even the gravest skeptic to take a closer look. The details are ominous.

The headline comes almost as an anticlimax to the recent report of the first atmospheric carbon dioxide observation of over 400 parts per million (ppm) from the Mount Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. The buzz from that announcement lasted about a day before everybody went back to business as usual.

2015 will probably be the first year with average readings above 400. That may not move the needle of public or governmental interest much, either, as the collective attitude of humanity seems to be ‘if it ain’t REALLY broke, don’t fix it.’

But there is news in the depths of this report that is quite chilling.

Despite a lot of governmental promises — and even a little action — the rate of growth of the three major greenhouse gases not only continues, but continues to increase. Carbon dioxide increased in 2013 over 2012 levels by 2.9 parts per million, to average 396 parts per million for the year.

How Do Today’s Greenhouse Gas Measurements Compare With Those In The Past?

Atmospheric carbon dioxide trends

Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing at an accelerated rate, while nitrous oxide and methane increase at a constant rate. Graphic courtesy of WMO

Compared to pre-industrial earth (1750), carbon dioxide is 42% higher; methane is two and a half times as great; and nitrous oxide is up 21%. This study of the recent past shows carbon dioxide increasing more rapidly with each year, while methane and nitrous oxide increase at constant levels.

What Would We Have to Do To Stop the Rise Of Carbon Dioxide In The Atmosphere?

The WMO report estimates that with an 80% reduction of emissions, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would stabilize at about 425 ppm. If the current rate of emissions continues, the WMO estimates that atmospheric carbon dioxide will reach 570 ppm by the year 2100. And if emissions continue to increase, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere go off the chart in this century. No one knows what the consequences would be.

Ocean Acidification

For the first time, the WMO report includes an assessment of ocean acidification, which is a by-product of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. According to the report, “The current rate of ocean acidification appears unprecedented at least over the last 300 million years.

Acidification does not mean that the ocean has become acid — simply that the trend is towards lower ph values. Neutral ph is 7.0 and the current ph of seawater is still over 8.0, but declining.

Many aquatic animals are suited to living in a certain ph environment; large changes, which will occur over time if carbon dioxide continues to increase in the atmosphere, will seriously impact aquatic life.

Anthropogenic Activity Is Causing The Increase In Greenhouse Gases

The WMO attributes 60% of the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to anthropogenic activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels. But it also indicates that biomass uptake is a factor. This is shorthand for reduced plant respiration, most likely due to deforestation.

WMO Appeals For Action

The WMO is not given to hyperbole; nor do its members have any vested interest in the climate-change debate other than scientific accuracy. The following quotes are from WMO Secretary-General and meteorologist Michel Jarraud, (fellow of the American Meteorological Society (USA), a member of the Société Météorologique de France, the Royal Meteorological Society (United Kingdom) and the African Meteorological Society, as well as an Honorary Member of the Chinese Meteorological Society and the Cuban Meteorological Society):

Past, present and future CO2 emissions will have a cumulative impact on both global warming and ocean acidification. The laws of physics are non-negotiable.”

We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board. We are running out of time.”

Pleading ignorance can no longer be an excuse for not acting.”

Wendy Watson-Wright, PhD, Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO added:

If global warming is not a strong enough reason to cut CO2 emissions, ocean acidification should be, since its effects are already being felt and will increase for many decades to come. I echo WMO Secretary General Jarraud’s concern – we ARE running out of time.

Carbon Dioxide, Weather, and Climate: What Will Happen?

There is no end to man’s ingenuity — nor, seemingly, to his destructive capacity. The fork in the road has been reached. The weather is changing at an alarming rate and there is no letup in the increase of greenhouse gases.

It is very likely that the world of our grandchildren will be much different from the one in which we live. How much different may depend on actions that countries collectively take in the near future. The United Nations climate summit in New York, beginning September 23, 2014 would be a good place to start.

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