The latest government data about the state of the Earth's climate, released a day after Earth Day, show an accelerating trend of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere.
As Reuters put it, "carbon dioxide levels this year are literally off the chart." Though, really, it's just a matter of choosing the scale of the chart, the trend is nonetheless startling.
Not only did carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions increase 0.6% that's 19 billion tons but methane (CH4), an even more powerful but less common greenhouse gas, increased by 27 million tons after nearly a decade without increase. The amount of carbon added to the atmosphere in 2007 was 20% higher than the average annual increase in recent years (2.4 ppm versus 2 ppm), 60% more than the increase witnessed in the 1980s and more than double the increase recorded in the 1960s.
Whether that sudden spike indicates that the permafrost in the Arctic is melting remains to be determined. When permafrost melts, it releases a massive dose of greenhouse gases that will fuel more warming, which will melt more permafrost, which will... It's one of the most feared "positive feedback loops" that scientists predict will accelerate the global warming that is initiated by pollution from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil.
Were on the lookout for the first sign of a methane release from thawing Arctic permafrost, said Ed Dlugokencky from NOAAs Earth System Research Laboratory. Its too soon to tell whether last years spike in emissions includes the start of such a trend.
Besides emissions from wetlands, methane increased due to industrial development in Asia. Carbon dioxide emissions in China also now rival the annual contribution of the United States, though the U.S. has a much longer history of contributing significantly to the global climate problem.
The findings, from 60 sites around the world, are preliminary. But, they are also nothing if not worrying: The concentration of atmospheric carbon is now up to about 385 parts per million, up 37.5% since preindustrial times. United Nations scientists have set the goal of stopping emissions before atmospheric concentration reaches 460 ppm, and to do so industrialized nations like the United States need to cut back pollution by 80-90% by 2050. Right now, pollution continues to increase.
Global methane (CH4) concentrations rose in 2007. The red line shows the trend together with seasonal variations. The black line indicates the trend that emerges when the seasonal cycle has been removed.
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