New data reveals that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to record levels during the month of May.
According to readings released on June 4, 2019 by the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, carbon dioxide levels averaged 414.7 parts per million (ppm) in May 2019. This is 3.5 ppm higher than the amount measured at the same time last year.
This is the seventh consecutive year that carbon dioxide levels have increased. This year’s levels also represent the highest seasonal peak recorded and the second highest annual rise in the past 60 years.
In the past decade, rising carbon dioxide levels have been reaching an average annual growth rate of 2.2 ppm compared to 1.5 ppm in the 1990s. More recently, this figure has climbed even higher and faster.
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Carbon dioxide levels have been monitored since 1958 at the Mauna Loa Observatory, located in the Pacific Ocean on top of Hawaii’s biggest volcano.
“It is critically important to have these accurate long-term measurements of CO2 in order to understand how quickly fossil fuels are changing our climate,” said Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division. “These are measurements of the real atmosphere, and do not depend on any models, but they help us verify climate model projections, which if anything have underestimated the rapid pace of climate change being observed.”
Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are an indication of an increase in the burning of fossil fuels.
“There is abundant and conclusive evidence that the acceleration is caused by increased emissions,” Tans said.
Global carbon dioxide concentrations are measured in the month of May because this is when they peak, just before the start of spring in the northern hemisphere and the growth of carbon dioxide-absorbing vegetation.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that causes global warming and is largely man-made through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.
“Many proposals have been made to mitigate global warming, but without a rapid decrease of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, they are pretty much futile,” Tans added.
The increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been linked to sea levels rising faster than expected as well as predictions that droughts may become more prevalent in North America and Europe.
“CO2 growth rate is still very high,” Ralph Keeling, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said. “The increase from last May was 3.5 ppm, which is well above the average for the past decade. We’re likely seeing the effect of mild El Niño conditions on top of record fossil fuel use.”
In 2014, readings at the Mauna Loa Observatory revealed the carbon dioxide levels had passed the 400 ppm threshold. Scientists warn that concentrations of more than 450 ppm can trigger temperature rises and extreme weather events.