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Carbon Dioxide Levels At South Pole Pass 400 PPM For First Time In 4 Million Years

A round of awkward applause is due, as new figures from NOAA reveal carbon dioxide levels at the South Pole have surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time in 4 million years.

According to new figures released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on May 23rd, the carbon dioxide (CO2) levels at the South Pole surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 4 million years. Though it has taken a longer time in coming due to its extreme isolation from the rest of humanity, the South Pole has nevertheless been exhibiting the same carbon dioxide increase as everywhere else, just at something of a remove.

“The far southern hemisphere was the last place on earth where CO2 had not yet reached this mark,” said Pieter Tans, the lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network. “Global CO2 levels will not return to values below 400 ppm in our lifetimes, and almost certainly for much longer.”


Daily average carbon dioxide levels rose to a new high level of 400 parts per million on May 23rd for the first time in four million years. This chart shows readings at the South Pole from 2014 to present, as recorded by NOAA’s greenhouse gas monitoring network. Credit: NOAA

2015’s global CO2 average reached 399 ppm, which unsurprisingly bodes ill for 2016 figures, especially in light of the South Pole, the most remote location on our planet’s surface, surpassing 400 ppm. As NOAA notes, however, “The only question is whether the lowest month for 2016 will also remain above 400.”

Earlier this year, NOAA reported that its Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reported the largest increase in CO2 levels in 56 years of recorded and observation done at the station. The largest increase in atmospheric carbon saw levels jump 3.05 parts per million, at the same time as 2015 was revealed to be the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than 2 ppm. 2016 is expected to be the fifth.

“Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years,” said Pieter Tans in March. “It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”

“We know from abundant and solid evidence that the CO2 increase is caused entirely by human activities,” Tans said this week. “Since emissions from fossil fuel burning have been at a record high during the last several years, the rate of CO2 increase has also been at a record high. And we know some of it will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years.”

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