September 5 , 2006
Thin Blue Veil
Image courtesy of Distributed Active Archive Center
Hidden in the Science/ Nature section of the BBC News website is an article that should be on the front page of every newspaper around the world. Our planet is heating up at an unprecedented rate.The article puts into perspective how quickly the world's climate is changing due to the ever increasing amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere.
This is not fiction. This is not some politically motivated slant on the issue of global warming. This is hard factual evidence. By analyzing ice samples taken from the Antarctic, we can look back into the earth's history to determine how much carbon dioxide has been in our atmosphere.
These ice core samples accurately measure the earth's climatic history for the past 800,000 years by measuring CO2 levels inside of tiny air bubbles in the ice. The results are astounding.
The greatest increase of CO2 levels over this time period were 30 parts per million which occurred over a 1,000 year period of the sample. In other words, it took 1,000 years for a moderate rise in CO2. The cause of this could have been volcanic eruptions or other natural phenomena. The key is that it took 1,000 years.
Turning our attention to present day, that same 30 ppm value has occurred in only 17 years. And that's not all. Preindustrial levels of CO2 were around 280,000 ppm and we are now at 381,000 ppm. That's a huge increase.
And to top it off over the past 800,000 years CO2 levels have never been this high.
Doing My Own Research
Other global warming news stories over the past year have focused on alarmingly large increase of CO2 on an annual basis. Instead of CO2 levels rising at about 1ppm per year (which is still a bad signal), recent years have shown increases of over 2ppm per year. I wondered if this recent trend was just an anomaly or something more sinister.
I figured the data must be online somewhere, so I went to NOAA's website to see if I could do a little investigating on my own. I found that there are various ways that the CO2 levels are recorded on a global basis, but by and large the longest standing measurements of CO2 levels comes from Mauna Loa, Hawaii. Measured from an observatory located at over 11,000 feet in elevation, NOAA has been monitoring levels since 1958. Sure enough, the data is available to anyone interested. (Click here to go to the data.)
I took the data and imported it into an Excel spreadsheet and charted the rate of change by month (since 1959) on an annual basis. In other words, I looked at the increase/decrease of CO2 in the atmosphere for each month since 1959 and plotted the change on the chart pictured below. (For example DEC of 1960 vs. DEC of 1959, JAN of 1961 vs JAN of 1960, etc.)
Here's what I found:
As you can see since records have been kept on Mauna Loa, the overall pattern is a slow increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. There have been a few months in which CO2 actually dropped (only 21months out of 574), most of them were in the earlier years that records were kept.
Now take a closer look at the years from 1993 to present. The amount of increase over a twelve-month period has been rising. The "valleys" aren't as close to zero and the "peaks" are getting higher. This does seem to indicate that the rate of change in the global climate over the past 20 is increasing — meaning the earth is getting warmer, faster. This is what has climatologists very worried.
Don't forget that the above chart shows the rate of change per year. This chart does not show the total levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. That chart looks like this:
So if global warming is for real, what can we do about it? One thing is for sure, we can't wait for our governments to do something about it. We have to take it upon ourselves to cut CO2 emissions. How?
The two largest contributors to CO2 in the atmosphere are coal-burning electric power plants and car/truck emissions. That doesn't mean you have to invest in renewable energy or go out and buy a hybrid car (although that would be a nice touch). There are plenty of things that can be done to reduce our energy consumption. And guess what? When you reduce your energy consumption, you save money!
Okay, okay. I'm now getting off of my soap box. I'm just very worried about the future of this planet. It's the only one we've got. Our atmosphere is just a thin, blue veil and the future of this planet truly lies in our own hands.
PS Thanks to all of those who wrote to me regarding my Lyme Disease episode. Luckily it was caught early enough and I'm back to 100% -- Thanks!
Barred Owls are full-time residents at Day Creek.