2013-05-01. Global CO2 Levels Approach Worrisome Milestone. Excerpt: ...Near the moonscape summit of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, an infrared analyzer will soon make history. Sometime in the next month, it is expected to record a daily concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of more than 400 parts per million (p.p.m.), a value not reached at this key surveillance point for a few million years. There will be no balloons or noisemakers to celebrate the event. Researchers who monitor greenhouse gases will regard it more as a disturbing marker of humanity’s power to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere and by extension, the climate of the planet. At 400 p.p.m., nations will have a difficult time keeping global warming in check, says Corinne Le Quéré, a climate researcher at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, who says that the impact “is getting very dangerously close to reaching the 2 °C target that governments around the world have pledged not to exceed”.... http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=global-co2-levels-approach-worriesome-milestone. Richard Monastersky and Nature magazine, Scientific American.
2010 December 21. A Scientist, His Work, and a Climate Reckoning. By Justin Gillis, NYTimes. Excerpt:
MAUNA LOA OBSERVATORY, Hawaii — Two gray machines sit inside a pair of
utilitarian buildings here, sniffing the fresh breezes that blow across
thousands of miles of ocean....
...The first machine of this type was installed on Mauna Loa in the
1950s at the behest of Charles David Keeling, a scientist from San
Diego. His resulting discovery, of the increasing level of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere, transformed the scientific understanding of
humanity’s relationship with the earth. A graph of his findings is
inscribed on a wall in Washington as one of the great achievements of
Yet, five years after Dr. Keeling’s death, his discovery is a focus not
of celebration but of conflict. It has become the touchstone of a
worldwide political debate over global warming...
2009 October 8. Last time carbon dioxide levels were this high: 15 million years ago, scientists report. EurekAlert. Excerpt:
You would have to go back at least 15 million years to find carbon
dioxide levels on Earth as high as they are today, a UCLA scientist and
colleagues report Oct. 8 in the online edition of the journal Science.
"The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they
are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures
were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea
level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no
permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica
and Greenland," said the paper's lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA
assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and
the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.
...By analyzing the chemistry of bubbles of ancient air trapped in
Antarctic ice, scientists have been able to determine the composition
of Earth's atmosphere going back as far as 800,000 years, and they have
developed a good understanding of how carbon dioxide levels have varied
in the atmosphere since that time. But there has been little agreement
before this study on how to reconstruct carbon dioxide levels prior to
800,000 years ago.
..."A slightly shocking finding," Tripati said, "is that the only time
in the last 20 million years that we find evidence for carbon dioxide
levels similar to the modern level of 387 parts per million was 15 to
20 million years ago, when the planet was dramatically different."
Levels of carbon dioxide have varied only between 180 and 300 parts per
million over the last 800,000 years — until recent decades, said
Tripati, who is also a member of UCLA's Institute of Geophysics and
Planetary Physics. It has been known that modern-day levels of carbon
dioxide are unprecedented over the last 800,000 years, but the finding
that modern levels have not been reached in the last 15 million years
2009 February 24. NASA Satellite Fails to Reach Orbit. By Kenneth Chang, the NY Times. Excerpt:
A NASA satellite to track carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere
failed to reach its orbit during launching Tuesday morning, scuttling
the $278 million mission.
...The Orbiting Carbon Observatory lifted off on schedule at 1:55 a.m.
Pacific time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a
four-stage Taurus XL rocket.
But three minutes later, during the burning of the third stage, the
payload fairing — a clamshell nose cone that protects the satellite as
it rises through the atmosphere — failed to separate as commanded.
The third and fourth stages burned properly, but because of the added
weight of the nose cone, the satellite did not reach orbit.
...The satellite fell back to Earth, landing in the ocean just short of Antarctica.
...The carbon observatory was to precisely measure levels of carbon
dioxide — the heat-trapping gas that is driving global warming — in the
air. Scientists had hoped the new data, covering the entire planet,
would help them improve climate models and better understand the
“carbon sinks” like oceans and forests and that absorb much of the
2009 February 23. NASA-Funded Carbon Dioxide Map Of U.S. Released On Google Earth. ScienceDaily. Excerpt:
Interactive maps that detail carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel
combustion are now available on the popular Google Earth platform. The
maps, funded by NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy through the
joint North American Carbon Program, can display fossil fuel emissions
by the hour, geographic region, and fuel type.
...Researchers from the project, named "Vulcan" for the Roman god of
fire, constructed an unprecedented inventory of the carbon dioxide that
results from the burning of 48 different types of fossil fuel. The
data-based maps show estimates of the hourly carbon dioxide outputs of
factories, power plants, vehicle traffic and residential and commercial
...“The release of the Vulcan inventory on Google Earth brings this
information into the living room of anyone with an Internet
connection," said Kevin Gurney, an assistant professor of Earth and
atmospheric sciences at Purdue and leader of the Vulcan Project. "From
a societal perspective, Vulcan provides a description of where and when
society influences climate change through fossil-fuel carbon dioxide
2009 January 29. NASA RELEASE: 09-021. NASA Mission to Help Unravel Key Carbon, Climate Mysteries. Excerpt:
WASHINGTON -- NASA's first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric
carbon dioxide is in final preparations for a Feb. 23 launch from
Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Carbon dioxide is the leading
human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth's climate.
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will provide the first complete picture
of human and natural carbon dioxide sources as well as their "sinks,"
the places where carbon dioxide is pulled out of the atmosphere and
stored. It will map the global geographic distribution of these sources
and sinks and study their changes over time. The measurements will be
combined with data from ground stations, aircraft and other satellites
to help answer questions about the processes that regulate atmospheric
carbon dioxide and its role in Earth's climate and carbon cycle.
..."It's critical that we understand the processes controlling carbon
dioxide in our atmosphere today so we can predict how fast it will
build up in the future and how quickly we'll have to adapt to climate
change caused by carbon dioxide buildup," said David Crisp, principal
investigator for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
...The new observatory will dramatically improve global carbon dioxide
measurements, collecting about 8 million measurements every 16 days for
at least two years.... Scientists need these precise measurements
because carbon dioxide varies by just 10 parts per million throughout
the year on regional to continental scales....
2008 December 4. The Ins and Outs of the Global Carbon Cycle. By Jeremy Jacquot, Science Progress. Excerpt:
...Having spent the last few decades piecing together the different
components of the global carbon puzzle, scientists now have a good idea
of how the planet’s natural carbon sinks (or reservoirs) work—primarily
these sinks are plants and the oceans. But when it comes to pinpointing
the locations of all the sources (areas or organisms which release
carbon dioxide to the atmosphere), there remains a lot of
ambiguity—mostly because climate change is constantly changing the
picture of how the sources work (and it’s usually changing for the
worse). ...What many scientists are now worried about is the degree to
which carbon sinks could shrink, or carbon sources could grow, in
response to the rapid increase in anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
The easiest way to think of the global carbon cycle is as the sum total
of different reactions...between and within the planet’s major carbon
repositories: the ocean and terrestrial biosphere. The ocean is by far
the larger one—estimated to hold about 38,000 petagrams (1 petagram
equals one trillion grams); the land plants and soils that make up the
terrestrial biosphere store only about 2,000.
...These sinks currently absorb around half of all the carbon dioxide
emitted through fossil fuel combustion. Around 85 percent of new
anthropogenic CO2 ends up in the ocean... Almost half of the total
amount of anthropogenic CO2 that has been added to the atmosphere since
pre-industrial times has gone into the ocean.
...scientists are beginning to come to grips with the realization that
many erstwhile sinks, primarily plants and soils, could lose their
ability to draw down CO2 in a warming world—with a worst-case scenario
being that they would turn into sources....
2008 December 1. Carbon Detectives Are Tracking Gases in Colorado. By Susan Moran, The New York Times. Excerpt:
BOULDER, Colo. — As she squeezed herself into a telephone-booth-size
elevator to ascend a 984-foot tower in Colorado’s eastern plains, Arlyn
Andrews said with a grin, “This makes me want to go rock climbing.”
It’s a good thing she loves climbing tall structures. Dr. Andrews, an
atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration in Boulder, climbs the tower periodically to make sure
the narrow tubes running from the tower to analyzers nearby are
properly taking continuous samples of carbon dioxide, methane and a
cocktail of other greenhouse gases.
...“We’re able to detect the whole mix of emissions here — what comes
from automobile traffic, from industry, from residential development
and from agriculture,” Dr. Andrews said.
She is one of many carbon sleuths, scientists who track and analyze
where greenhouse gases come from and where they go over time. Think of
it like personal finances. To plan for a sound financial future, it
helps to create a budget and keep track of how one is spending money.
Similarly, atmospheric scientists need to develop a “budget” for
...The key task is measuring the sources, or emissions, of these
planet-warming gases, and the “sinks” — forests, cropland and oceans
that absorb carbon. This budget can then inform intelligent
climate-control policy, whether it be managing one forest or shaping
national emissions regulations.
...But uncertainty remains high — often as high as estimates
themselves. For instance, researchers think about half of the CO2
emitted into the atmosphere gets absorbed by oceans and land, but they
do not know precisely where the gases come from and where they end up.
This knowledge gap has serious policy implications; until it becomes
clear where emissions are going, it will remain difficult to have
verifiable credits for sequestering carbon....
2008 November 12. NASA'S Carbon-Sniffing Satellite Sleuth Arrives at Launch Site. NASA RELEASE : 08-285. Excerpt:
WASHINGTON -- NASA's first spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon
dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in
Earth's climate, has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to
begin final launch preparations.
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory arrived Nov. 11 at its launch site on
California's central coast after completing a cross-country trip by
truck from its manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles,
Va....After final tests, the spacecraft will be integrated onto an
Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket in preparation for its planned January
The observatory will help solve some of the lingering mysteries in our
understanding of Earth's carbon cycle and its primary atmospheric
component, carbon dioxide, a chemical compound that is produced both
naturally and through human activities....
...The observatory's space-based measurements of atmospheric carbon
dioxide will have the precision, resolution and coverage needed to
provide the first complete picture of both human and natural sources of
carbon dioxide emissions. It will show the places where they are
absorbed, known as "sinks," at regional scales everywhere on Earth. Its
data will reduce uncertainties in forecasts of how much carbon dioxide
is in the atmosphere and improve the accuracy of global climate change
2008 April 7,Breath of a Nation - Animated CO2 Map. By ANDREW C. REVKIN. Scientists
have come up with a new way to precisely track daily and local patterns
of carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels by power
plants, factories, and vehicle traffic. The resulting database and maps
provide a view of the "industrial metabolism" of our combustion-powered
lives, Kevin Gurney, the leader in the project and an atmospheric
scientist at Purdue, told me today.
A YouTube video produced by the team, which did the work with funding
from NASA and the Department of Energy, includes fascinating animations
showing the daily burst of emissions as industry and traffic kick into
gear, and also reveals regional patterns showing that the Southeast is
a bigger contributor to emissions than researchers realized. For more
info, see article at Purdue website.
Archive of Past Articles for Chapter 5
- 19 multimedia resources from Teachers' Domain Earth
and Space Science.
for Investigation "Sampling
Carbon Dioxide" showing:
Bubbling Gas Through Straw; Low
Res (788K)-|- Hi
Generating Pure CO2 Sample; Low
Res (643K) -|- Hi
Capturing Car Exhaust; Low
Res (3.3M) (629K) -|-