Carbon dioxide temporarily tops 400ppm, so what?

Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide temporarily topped the 400ppm mark for a few hours at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii precipitating a media frenzy. Typical of the hype is this story from the New York Times which begins: “The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.” There are two errors of fact in that sentence: 1) water vapor is the most important heat-trapping gas, and 2) CO2 concentrations above 400ppm were reported from the 1820s and from the 1940s.

Here is the graph showing the “monumental” event from Mauna Loa:

  Mauna-Loa-CO2-May-9-2013

 And here is a graph showing analyses from previous research on atmospheric carbon dioxide:

CO2-variation-chemical

Note that both the modern measurements at Mauna Loa and the older measurements are measuring point sources which may or may not reflect global concentrations. The older chemical methods reported by Beck used a chemical analysis of air captured in flasks. Lest you think that’s too old fashioned, note that NOAA still uses that method to check the Mauna Loa data. “NOAA’s Earth Science Research Laboratory program also measures CO2 in weekly flask samples taken at over 60 remote locations around the world.” (See link below)

The Mauna Loa observatory sits on the flank of an active volcano which “emits variable amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) from fissures at the summit.” NASA explains how scientists attempt to distinguish between carbon dioxide from volcanic emissions and overall atmospheric concentration here.

There is another fly in the ointment reported by Scripps Institution of Oceanography:

“Starting around May 1, we began experiencing intermittent difficulties with the computer used to control the Scripps CO2 analyzer at the Mauna Loa Observatory. This led to delays in providing daily values and also some data gaps. Although such difficulties are not uncommon and rarely lead to significant long-term data loss, we have decided to switch over to reporting daily values from second Scripps instrument, operated in parallel at Mauna Loa…”

Whether or not the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration has topped a “long-feared milestone” is irrelevant. Carbon dioxide rises as a result of increasing temperature which causes carbon dioxide to exsolve from the oceans and also rises from our increasing use of fossil fuels. For most of Earth’s history carbon dioxide has been well above 1,000ppm and Earth not only survived but life was robust and verdant.

Instead of fearing this artificial milestone, we should celebrate it and try to increase the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. For the reason see: A Modest Proposal: Triple Your Carbon Footprint.

See also:

Which comes first, rise in global CO2 or rise in global temperature?

The Eocene climatic optimum and paradise lost

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79 comments

  1. The sky is falling scientists are screaming again! Back on your meds, pronto, and just relax!

  2. Behold the IQ of the typical brainless Christian Republican who does not understand even the basics of science. Highly amusing.

    The insane cult savage dismissed all of the actual climate science which has been established over the past 160 years and ends with the Christian-loon conclusion that people should embrace the mass migrations, the crop failures, and relocated flora and fauna die-back that is already taking place.

    The abject insanity of Christianic Republicans would be amusing were it not for the fact that these insane corporate fascists control tax payer money which their corporate masters use to commit corporate crimes against us.

  3. No, temperature rises as a result of CO2 concentration and that of other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and 400ppm CO2 has not been recorded before, not in the 1940s, certainly not in the 1820s, not in modern times in fact. Ice cores and sediment cores also prove that such levels have not existed as long as there have been humans, you in fact would have to go back to the Pliocene period over 3 million years ago to find CO2 levels naturally above 400ppm. Long story short, since the ice ages have started, levels have rarely hit 300ppm, even during interglacial periods and during actual ice ages, they have crashed below 200ppm. Prior to the industrial revolution, they were at 280ppm, by the 1950s they reached around 320 and now look where we are, and temperatures are lagging behind the rapid, human-induced CO2 rise, not the other way around.
    So try not to corrupt and cherry-pick science to fit your ideological beliefs, you just come off as an idiot.

  4. I wonder if any Fox “News” believer out there still believes such obvious, anti-science nonsense. I also wonder if any Republican idiots out there agree that massive migrations of human populace away from Earth’s equatorial and Temperate zones toward the poles is some how beneficial, something to celebrate.

    Nobody has ever accused these oil industry liars of being even the least bit honest or bright, but the gig is up, only the dumbest teabagging Republican dimwits out there believe these oil industry lies.

    1. Sandy, fully one third of the ignorant American populace believes such corporate lies. The problem is that most Americans have no conception of science, how it works, what the Scientific Method is. They would look at the BS that DuHamel and his fellow corporate liars write and not have the education to recognize it as lies.

  5. In his articles, this author likes to point out that for the “majority” of Earth’s history over the eons atmospheric CO2 levels have been exceedingly high and that therefor we have nothing to fear. But what he consistently fails to mention is that for the overwhelmingly greatest portion of that very same Earth’s history, human beings (homo sapiens) did not exist and that therefore for most of the Earth’s history said human beings generally did not have to worry about extremely large percentages of their population being wiped out en masse across the globe. The problem with prolonged rising of CO2 levels over decades and centuries is not merely the increased CO2 itself but what it ultimately does to our sea levels and therefore land masses, which in turn can potentially affect the lives of billions of people in quite dramatic ways.

    Yes it is true that CO2 serves plants and vegetation in general quite well. The issue here, though, is *how* increases in CO2 come into being. Yes, it rises and falls as a course of natural events. But it *also* rises as a reaction to various sources of pollution, particularly through emissions generated by the burning of fossil fuels. Such pollution tends to create TWO effects – 1) the killing of life – including vegetation – rather directly, AND 2) increasing CO2 levels (also pretty directly). Consequently, it can (at least theoretically) get to the point where there is simply not enough plant life to process the ever-increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and thus *possibly* resulting in the planet effectively becoming asphyxiated, at least to the point where very complex oxygen-breathing organisms (such as but by no means limited to homo sapiens) might no longer be able to survive on the planet.

    This would not be too unlike the ever-growing Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which originally was kept small and manageable by nature but now grows ever larger due primarily to human agricultural pollution. Here, the net effect again is to choke off the supply of oxygen required by complex organisms to survive (fish etc.).

    In both cases, if left unchecked the net effect is to kill off complex organisms and leaving (if not expanding the population of) only the more simple ones to survive. THIS is what the author’s “recommendations” would lead to, because he *consistently* fails to account for the incredibly important differences between genuinely natural processes on the one hand and man-made polluting processes on the other.

      1. – Move? To *where*? Another planet, perhaps? Not yet possible, if that’s what you meant. If that’s *not* what you meant, then your reply would seem to not make any sense.

      2. 🙂 Yes, they can move North, in to the Ukrainian tundra where the soil can not support even a dozen humans in 50 square miles. What, you think science is going to create a Warp Drive, send us all to your Republican cult master’s Mitt Romney’s Planet Kolob? 🙂

        No, ya frothing corporate idiot, people can’t move. We are already seeing migrations of humans caused by global warming, and every geological arena they’re moving in to is already at maximum capacity, that’s why we’re seeing continued regional incident starvation.

    1. Steve, you may find that this “Jonathan Duhamel” guy is a christian Creationist, someone who does not accept the fact that the Earth is some 4.5 billion years old. He harbors all the honesty and scientific acumen of a typical Bob Jones University “graduate,” and I see that he can not address even minimal scientific truths others have brought to his attention, making it almost certain he’s either home schooled, a paid liar, or a Bob Jones University-like “graduate.”

      1. I see the the author is deleting comments that contain actual truth, that also speaks to the credibility of the un-credentialed PR shill.

      2. I you had read the boilerplate at the end of the post, you should realize that comments should follow TC guidelines. I have deleted those that didn’t.

      3. LOL (genuine laughter)! It figures. These bozo’s *always* try to hide their underlying colors. Thanks for the tip-off, saves me from wasting my breath.

        The interesting thing, though, is that this guy’s professed beliefs and conclusions regarding climate change etc. don’t even seem to jive with “creationism.” So it seems he’s in his own little universe, mentally, with its own unique set of laws (or lack thereof).

        What I don’t get is why this “Tucson Citizen” seems to knowingly and even deliberately allow him to use their “publication” to expose himself to public and scientific ridicule. It almost seems cruel on Tucson Citizen’s part.

    2. Human beings are not homo sapiens , Human beings have been created in the image of God, and God is not a Homo sapien ,he is an awsome intelegent spirtit being and an intelegent creator. And because he created humans in his own image he also gave humans their creatiev intelegence
      But here is the very reasone why evolution believers live in the fear of globol warming, simply because they think that things all happen by accident . It’s a wonder how they don’t also live in fear that the earth might drift further away from the sun and freeze itself , or get closer to the sun and burn to cinder since there was no-one there to keep it in it’s perfect orbit.

    3. @steve. Thouasands of years ago the sea levels where a lot higher than they are today. and those lower sea levels are now the glacierce. The problem is that whene the water evaporates it leaves all the salt in the sea which if this process continues the sea chemicals will become unbalanced and everything in the sea will eventually die.
      God created nature to protect his creation and he designd nature to kick in as requiered . So whene the glacierce starts to melt they are only releasing what came out of the sea in the first place “fresh water,. making sure that the ocean chemichals don’t become too extreme and dangerousely unbalanced .
      If sea levels starts to rise and treathens humans don’t blame Global warming. But blame Humans ignorance for building their citys and other dwellings on ancient sea beds before their water was turned to ice thousands of years ago.
      Whene humans mess around with nature sooner or later we have to pay the price . But human nature never allows humans to own up for our responsibilities , but always pointing our finger and blaming someone or something else, like in this case the C02 and global warming.
      All world rivers ends up in the sea and so does seasonal snow as it melts quickly and goes back in the sea , yet no scientist balme rivers and snow for sea level rising. They always blame the glacierc. .Glacierc are no different to rivers, and snow, they just take a lot longer to go back to the sea thats all.

      1. – I’m sorry, but your “logic” is literally twisted – as in circular. So tell your “story” to the author of this bizarre article please, whose unwillingness to actually complete a rational thought matches your own, and not *me*.
        Thank you.

      2. Idon’t believe what anybody say ,untill i prove it to be true in my own mind. i look at nature as it is with my blinkers off and let my common sense help me to understand what is happening. in the world around me .

      3. – That’s perfectly fine – but for you and *only* you.
        You see, precisely because you define your “natural reality” according to your own particular ideas or set of “rules” (don’t worry – here I’m using the term “rules” *very* loosely), you can’t ever expect anyone else to agree with it. Because everyone else will either a) have their *own* particular definition of “natural reality,” or b) believe in science. Good luck, though!

      4. I’M not trying to get anyone to agree with me , your comment is quite right .I believe that every individual has the right to make up their own mind according to whatever dessition they make. But there are too many individuals out there that are living in fear because they just believe what they are told, from all kinds of different areas ,whether governments, or science ,and such. which information is very often missleading and totally incorrect.

  6. So this Koch Brothers “consulting” company employee honestly believes that educated, informed people believe any of this oil industry propaganda, this despite the fact that anyone can get on line, do Google searches for the actual climate science, and see for themselves that Jonathan is full of dung.

    As someone noted on Facebook, 1.2 billion Indians aren’t going to enjoy the Indian monsoon disruptions they’re already seeing getting worse and worse as oceanic flow patterns continue to get disrupted due to global warming, and why Americans should celebrate the drying out of the North American interior and the continued mass failure of America’s grain crops… Well the idiot liar corporation that wrote this right wing propaganda piece must be insane if they think Americans are stupid enough to believe such lies.

  7. Such irony. At Crystal Lake we are seeing plan migrations from lower altitudes climbing to higher altitudes that we have never seen before. We saw poison oak growing at 6500 feet one year, something that used to be unheard of but which is happening regionally across parts of the Western United States.

    How is it that some “scientist” wannabe proclaims that we should celebrate the global consequences of climate change which has seen inter-coastal waterways already inundated in some regions of the world, and has already resulted in crop failures in regions of the world which have historically been boom production through all of recorded history up until just the past 10 years?

    Never under-estimate the obvious falsehoods that corporate propaganda tries to shovel out to the uninformed, uneducated, tax-payer masses. Stuff like this is classic, yet fortunately fewer and fewer people still buy such right wing corporate propaganda.

    1. Dear Crystal, I wondering if you, as one of the “uninformed, uneducated, tax-payer[s]” (sic), think nature is ever static, never changes?

      1. There’s that Republican corporate IQ and utter lack of understanding of even basic science being expressed by the Republican, folks. Since these corporate liars can’t address the science, they employ fatal logic fallacies, this corporate idiot trying out both Straw Man and Red Herring. Huh, think it’ll work, ya frothing corporate loon?

      2. Jonathan, is there some reason you could not address the undeniable truth as I summarized above?

        What we are observing in the ANF and, indeed, across the American South West, in the Atlantic thermal expansion, what is being observed globally, all of it, all of the observed phenomena an dthe extant science simply does not disappear just because some guy getting a pay check from a coal company wants to pretend it hasn’t happened and is not happening.

        Failure to address the science issue coupled to failure to understand even the core basics of physics rather brands you as a paid liar, Jonathan. But more to the point, some 47,000+ peer-reviewed research papers covering climate change over the past 100 years makes your uninformed onions irrelevant.

    2. The way you describe those events sounds to me like evolution in progress. Many people these days believe in the stupid theory of evolution, then whene they see what you are describing they start to panic.

  8. Within the Angeles National Forest of the San Gabriel Mountains, biologists and botanists are already observing the effects and consequences of climate change all across the South Western United States.

    I’m not sure why someone thinks the massive disruptions in world food production is something we should celebrate.

    Speaking for myself, as always, and only for myself.

    1. Hi Gabe, if you study history including geologic history you might notice that climate is always changing; we just have to adapt. It is the ultimate hubris to think we can change it.

      1. I think you’re giving this guy Duhamel FAR too much credit by implying that he’s an “oil industry shill.” I get the impression that he *genuinely believes* the crazy, irrationally incomplete stuff that he writes…

      2. Humm… Let me think about this. Demonstrable observed phenomena and scientific investigation and almost a Century and a half of climate research and publications on one hand, and corporate-funded denial on the other hand… Well now. That’s rather a difficult choice to make on whom to believe… Humm. 🙂

        Jonathan, I believe I shall have to stick with scientific reality on this one and dismiss what you have to say about things. No offense intended, I was raised in an educational arena and managed to discover how to discern reality — despite having been educated in California. 🙂

      3. Gabriel, can you cite any physical evidence in that 150 years of climate research that shows that CO2 is the major climate driver?

      4. Are you really unaware of the existence of the evidence? It’s unwise to hold an opinion on this subject at all if you’re so ignorant. John Tyndall discovered that tiny quantities of CO2 could absorb large amounts of infrared radiation 150 years ago. Svante Arrhenius was the first to show that increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would cause significant increases in global temperatures, and he did that 120 years ago.

        It’s one thing to dispute the evidence, or to present what you think is counter-evidence. To deny outright that the evidence exists is just… weird.

      5. And the inability to rise to Jonathan’s simple challenge is….. weak. It was a simple question. You either have the answer at hand or you do not.

      6. It was a simple question and I gave a simple answer. Try reading my reply again, and look for the words “Tyndall” and “Arrhenius”. If your mind is closed to the extent that you’ll not only deny that evidence exists, but even refuse to comprehend the words on the page when someone is telling you what the evidence is, there’s not much more I can do to help you, is there?

      7. In case you haven’t noticed it, my icon there says “question” not “deny”. Skeptics question what the IPCC says and enviro-activists seem to deny that skeptics have any plausible criticism. I ask folks to tell me where skeptics are wrong, and they tell me skeptics are corrupt crooks. I ask if that can be proved and I’m told I am ignorant about the issue and closed-minded. Astute readers readily see how this narrative implodes for AGW promoters……

      8. And you think that unless your icon says “deny” then you’re not denying basic truths?

      9. Your proof for the “corporate-funded denial” is …….. what exactly? First, state specifically which skeptic scientists have ever “denied” climate change or global warming is happening outright, and then please provide us with specific physical evidence (full context memos, bank transaction records, hidden video/audio transcripts, etc) of corporate money given to skeptic scientists in exchange for demonstratively false fabricated science papers, reports, assessments, or viewpoints.

        You are entirely free to disagree with Jonathan it it makes you feel better. But hurl completely unsubstantiated accusations like that which are nothing more than regurgitated talking points stemming from enviro-activist organizations, and the rest of us are not assured that you have the ability to discern scientific reality from political opinion.

      10. Wow. This public relations liar is trying to get Republican idiots to believe that global warming means more food. Amazing. I wonder if Fox News has covered the systemic crop failures in the mid US. Probably not if this paid liar expects Republicans to be so stupid they would ignore what’s actually happening as North America dries out.

    2. Did you see the photograph of the poison oak growing up at 6500 feet in the drainage culvert along Lake Road? I sent email to the biologists who have been covering plant migration in the face of climate change at CalTech, copied to Michael Shermer. 10 years ago it was unheard of, now it’s cropping up. All part of the liberal conspiracy, of course. 🙂

    3. I can see from such comments that the religion of evolution is soon thrown out the door whene nature deals it’s cards. Maybe these events are the result of evolution and climate change is also part of the evolutionary progress. After all climate change was happening long before apes became humans. If you believe in such nonsens that is. !

      1. Notice that this PR liar did not ask the two people who posted comments here who actually work within the forest? For obvious reasons.

    1. Ah, the “pothole” chronicles. This video, by ex-journalist Peter Hadfield, aka Pothole54, is very clever at spinning a story, which cherry-picks data and ignores data supporting AGW, which may seem very reasonable to those not familiar with the science.

      I found most amusing Hadfield’s explanation of how earth recovered from its first great ice age when the planet was covered by a vast ice sheet almost to the equator.

      Some background: early earth’s atmosphere was mainly nitrogen and methane. Cyanobacteria, around since at least 3.8 billion years ago were growing and emitting oxygen. At some point about 2.5 billion years ago, oxygen in the oceans reached a critical point that caused iron and manganese to precipitate, forming our banded iron formations. Once the iron was used up, the oxygen began to increase in the atmosphere. Eventually, the oxygen destroyed the methane and produced carbon dioxide and water. Since methane is 65 times stronger than carbon dioxide, its destruction lead to the ice age.

      So, with the Earth covered nearly completely with ice Hadfield says volcanos melted the ice by emitting carbon dioxide. Of course these volcanos, even if they could produce enough carbon dioxide, emitted it under the sea and under the ice where most was absorbed by the cold ocean water. Little could get into the atmosphere. So Mr. Hadfield, it is really necessary for carbon dioxide to get into the atmosphere to have any greenhouse effect. Hadfields scenario ignores this minor point.

  9. Google the author’s name. 🙂 He has zero, none, not a single scientific peer-reviewed publication to his name. All he has are oil/coal/Koch industry denials of basic science, he’s not a published academic, he’s just another loud mouthed public relations liar.

  10. Before anyone stats to panic about this latest scare campain by scientists that belong to green groops, and are most likley on the government pay roll.
    Do you know that the global warming so called scientists don’t include in their global warming studies, what they concider any elements that are natrual C02 emmiters.
    There are three major elements that i’ve read about that they concider of natrual and therefore they excluded from their studies They are Bush fires. Volcanic erruptions ,and Solar ctivities .
    One of the major Co2 element they exclude from their studies because they have branded it as natrual are the world wide bush fires. But it has been proved that World wide bush fires produce two thirds of the C02 to the athmosphere, and it also has been proved by the police that 95% of the bush fires are not natrual at all but are the cause of arson.
    Since those three major elements are left out of the global warming studies , It makes their global warming predictions irrelevent, inacurate and totally missleading.

  11. These kind of articles are not to be taken seriously or thrusted, These kind of articles are based on scientist that depends on governments for their money to help to finance their projects and are on the government payroll,and from other scientists that belong to radical enviromental groups.

  12. These days our children are bombarded with the theory of evolution. But what if this theory is all wrong ? “[which i believe it defnetley is ]” Then if this theory is wrong those that believe it are living a lie,and are teaching our children lies. Scientists believe that if they find water on another planet then there is a chance that they can also discover life.
    But water will only sustain life ,it doesn’t create life. Life can only come from life itself, whether it may be human, or plant ,bird or fish and whatever life there is.
    The way i see it, the plants had to come before the seeds,and the adults had to come before the babies.
    whene a creature is born all organ parts have to be in place at instant birth.
    How then could evolution bring life about so succesfully if each organ had to be made bit by bit over millions of years. ?
    Can any scientist or anybody else prove that life does not come from life itself. ?

  13. A warming body of liquid absorbing a gas rather than giving it up more readily. Doesn’t that break some law of physics? Consider how a glass of Coca-Cola more readily gives up the CO2 in it as its temp gets warmer….

    1. No, of course it doesn’t break any laws of physics. It’s really incredibly simple. More CO2 in atmosphere = more CO2 in oceans. Google “ocean acidification”.

      1. properscientist is trying to invoke Henry’s law:”At a constant temperature, the amount of a given gas that dissolves in a given type and volume of liquid is directly proportional to the partial pressure of that gas in equilibrium with that liquid.”

        properscientist is ignoring the “AT CONSTANT TEMPERATURE” part

      2. No, I’m not ignoring anything. The amount of CO2 dissolved in the oceans is going up – that’s an observed fact, which you seek to deny. The increase in atmospheric CO2 means that more CO2 is going into the oceans than is coming out of them.

      3. Well Dennis, then according to Henry’s law, the oceans have to be maintaining a constant temperature or cooling.

      4. No. And why, in the face of readily available direct measurements, would you want to believe that the oceans are cooling? To deny that they are warming is like denying that the sun rose this morning. It just makes you look stupid.

      5. I didn’t say the oceans were cooling, I said they could not be warming if, as you claimed, they are absorbing more CO2 than they are emitting: Henry’s Law

      6. Henry’s Law doesn’t mean what you seem to think it means, because it applies to closed systems. When the total amount of CO2 in the system is going up, you can’t use it. The simple observed facts are: the oceans are getting warmer, and the amount of CO2 in the oceans is going up; and the atmosphere is getting warmer, and the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is going up. The root cause of all of this is the burning of fossil fuels. So please clarify, which of these observed facts do you deny, and which do you accept?

      7. Did you notice the first word on that graph? It’s underlined. It’s quite important in this context.

  14. Have we seen any ‘refugees’ from coastal areas inundated with sea level rise due to global warming anywhere yet? If not, is there any prediction on when this will start happening?

    1. We have. You haven’t, clearly. A quick bit of googling would tell you that people in Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and the Maldives, among other places, have moved from low lying islands and coastal areas because of rising sea levels. Sea levels rose about 20cm during the 20th century, and are predicted to rise by at least twice that by the end of the 21st century, and possibly up to 10 times as much. So the displacement of peoples that started some time ago will certainly continue.

      1. Bangladesh? I think not. Helps if you know how fast river deltas build up, compared to whatever sea level rise may be happining: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/01/03/bangladesh-the-poster-child/

        Maldives? I think not. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/08/24/the-maldives-emily-littella-moment-never-mind/

        50 million refugees? Never mind. http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/04/15/the-un-disappears-50-million-climate-refugees-then-botches-the-disappearing-attempt/

      2. “I think not”, you say, but you are allowing other people to do your thinking for you. Try reading the academic literature and not relying on pseudoscience blogs for your information. The movement of people due to rising sea levels is a fact.

    1. Because of the enormous damage the current climate change is causing and will cause. Duh.

      1. It almost seems like you’re getting it! Of course climate changes throughout the entire history of the Earth have caused damage.

  15. “Note that both the modern measurements at Mauna Loa and the older
    measurements are measuring point sources which may or may not reflect
    global concentrations”

    Incorrect. Mauna Loa was specifically chosen as a site where it’s quite easy to get measurements of CO2 concentrations which are representative of the global average. Ernst-Georg Beck was a schoolteacher who did not understand how or when to exclude measurements because of local contamination. His graph bears no resemblance to reality.

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