The largest increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels happened in 2015, when it jumped by 3.05 parts per million, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported the unprecedented spike in CO2 levels this week, which was the largest year-to-year increase ever observed in the 56 years of recording and research done at the station. To make matters worse, in another first, 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than 2 parts per million (ppm), according to Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.
“Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years,” Tans said. “It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”
The figures paint a dramatic tale: In February 2016, the average global atmospheric CO2 level was 402.59 ppm. Prior to the year 1800, atmospheric CO2 averaged around 280 ppm. Scientific research has concluded that the last time the Earth experienced such a sustained CO2 increase was between 17,000 and 11,000 years ago — and even then, CO2 levels only increased by 80 ppm. Today’s rate of increase is 200 times faster.
The figures determined by the Mauna Loa Observatory were also independently measured by NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California.
According to NOAA, despite the scary growth trends, this current jump in CO2 levels “is partially due to the current El Niño weather pattern,” mirrored by the last previous big increase which occurred in 1998, and was also a strong El Niño year.
Quoted by Climate Central, Michael Mann, an atmospheric science professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said that the CO2 milestone shouldn’t be over-interpreted.
“This spike is almost certainly due in substantial part to the ongoing El Niño event, which is a fleeting effect that increases carbon dioxide concentrations temporarily,” Mann said. “Carbon dioxide concentrations are a lagging indicator, and they don’t accurately reflect recent trends in the more important variable — our actual carbon emissions.”