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Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Reach New Record

Eco Watch / News Report
Published: Wednesday 21 November 2012
“About half of this carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, with the rest being absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial biosphere.”
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The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2011, according to a press release today by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Between 1990 and 2011 there was a 30 percent increase in radiative forcing—the warming effect on our climate—because of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping long-lived gases.

Since the start of the industrial era in 1750, about 375 billion tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere as CO2, primarily from fossil fuel combustion, according to WMO’s 2011 Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, which had a special focus on the carbon cycle. About half of this carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere, with the rest being absorbed by the oceans and terrestrial biosphere.

“These billions of tons of additional carbon dioxide in our atmosphere will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth,” said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud. “Future emissions will only compound the situation.”

“Until now, carbon sinks have absorbed nearly half of the carbon dioxide humans emitted in the atmosphere, but this will not necessarily continue in the future. We have already seen that the oceans are becoming more acidic as a result of the carbon dioxide uptake, with potential repercussions for the underwater food chain and coral reefs. There are many additional interactions between greenhouse gases, Earth’s biosphere and oceans, and we need to boost our monitoring capability and scientific knowledge in order to better understand these,” said Jarraud.

WMO’s Global Atmosphere Watch network, spanning more than 50 countries, provides accurate measurements which form the basis of our understanding of greenhouse gas concentrations, including their many sources, sinks and chemical transformations in the atmosphere,” said Jarraud.

The role of carbon sinks is pivotal in the overall carbon equation. If the extra CO2 emitted is stored in reservoirs such as the deep oceans, it could be trapped for hundreds or even thousands of years. By contrast, new forests retain carbon for a much shorter time span.

The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports on atmospheric concentrations—and not emissions—of greenhouse gases. Emissions represent what goes into the atmosphere. Concentrations represent what remains in the atmosphere after the complex system of interactions between the atmosphere, biosphere and the oceans.

CO2 is the most important of the long-lived greenhouse gases—so named because they trap radiation within the Earth’s atmosphere causing it to warm. Human activities, such as fossil fuel burning and land use change (for instance, tropical deforestation), are the main sources of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The other main long-lived greenhouse gases are methane and nitrous oxide. Increasing concentrations of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are drivers of climate change.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, quoted in the bulletin, shows that from 1990 to 2011, radiative forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases increased by 30 percent, with CO2 accounting for about 80 percent of this increase. Total radiative forcing of all long-lived greenhouse gases was the CO2 equivalent of 473 parts per million in 2011.

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Carbon dioxide is the single most important greenhouse gas emitted by human activities. It is responsible for 85 percent of the increase in radiative forcing over the past decade. According to WMO’s bulletin, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 390.9 parts per million in 2011, or 140 percent of the pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million.

The pre-industrial era level represented a balance of CO2 fluxes between the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased on average by 2 parts per million per year for the past 10 years.

Methane (CH4)

Methane is the second most important long-lived greenhouse gas. Approximately 40 percent of methane is emitted into the atmosphere by natural sources (e.g., wetlands and termites), and about 60 percent comes from activities like cattle breeding, rice agriculture, fossil fuel exploitation, landfills and biomass burning. Atmospheric methane reached a new high of about 1813 parts per billion (ppb) in 2011, or 259 percent of the pre-industrial level, due to increased emissions from anthropogenic sources. Since 2007, atmospheric methane has been increasing again after a period of leveling-off with a nearly constant rate during the last 3 years.

Nitrous oxide (N2O)

Nitrous oxide is emitted into the atmosphere from both natural (about 60 percent) and anthropogenic sources (approximately 40 percent), including oceans, soil, biomass burning, fertilizer use, and various industrial processes. Its atmospheric concentration in 2011 was about 324.2 parts per billion, which is 1.0 ppb above the previous year and 120 percent of the pre-industrial level. Its impact on climate, over a 100 year period, is 298 times greater than equal emissions of carbon dioxide. It also plays an important role in the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer which protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun.

We are not here to argue if

We are not here to argue if global warming is real. It is. The question is what do we do about it? We replace fossil fuels with wind and solar, and use hydrogen for vehicle fuel, heating, and energy storage. There is a social plan to bring this about called Ekson Exhilaration. Read about this proposal at

This article is a useful

This article is a useful simple summary. Perhaps some folks wish it would go into more details, but we are not enlightened on these by the mystifying rants in the comment by Jeltez42.

That comment's first paragraph takes pains to state that 'it is chemically impossible for it [CO2] to be the evil doer that this article paints'. I for one can't find any particular 'evil doing' painted by the article, let alone any claim or implication that such deed is indeed 'evil'.

It's interesting to read the allegation in the comment's second paragraph that dihydrogen oxide (i.e. water vapor) is 'responsible' for at least 76% of 'all warming', which allegedly makes water vapor a 'warming villain'. The comment complains about 'not a peep' on this subject, yet itself explains even less. 'Warming' can refer to any of several different things. In usual climate-change popular discussions, 'warming' increases over time in average near-surface air temperatures. On the other hand, 'warming' effects of a given substance - here water vapor - could refer just to that substance functioning as a heat sink.

And, unlike the gases discussed in the article, no one posits that specific human or natural activities - other than increased evaporation created by increased air temperatures - are creating more water vapor.

The comment's third paragraph is irritated by 'little alarmists' but it's not obvious who, if anyone, those folk are supposed to be, or whether their alarmism is supposed to be justified or not.

The final paragraph complains that 'the diagram is wrong' because it simplifies by failing to show more of the possible fates of incoming solar radiation. Actually, there are zillions of possible scenarios that could be said to be possible fates over time for the energy of an incoming solar photon. So no feasible diagram could fail to be 'wrong'.

If CO2 absorbed and emitted

If CO2 absorbed and emitted at the same frequency, 10 picometers, it wouldn't trap anything, it would be transparent. Every element and compound has a limited range of absorption and emission, or more precisely absorbs and emits at various frequency points on the spectrum. These are revealed by spectrographic analysis and are identified in the visible spectrum as the characteristic color of the element or compound as it is vaporized. Trace amounts of gases do have disproportionate effects on absorption and emission. That is why low e windows are charged with argon gas, to trap more infrared emissions.

Ninety-seven percent of

Ninety-seven percent of climatologists say that the average temperature of the worlds atmosphere is warming and that human activities (releasing carbon dioxide) are a major contributor to that warming.

On the other hand we have those who know little of the science but come to the comments section and dispute the experts with adolescent mockery.

Once again, a bogus science

Once again, a bogus science article. Reached a new record? We don't know that. Reached a high for our recording period, maybe. The monitoring is not a tightly knit network. CO2 has a very limited range of electromagnetic energy absorption. It is chemically impossible for it to be the evil doer that this article paints. And let's keep in mind that this is a TRACE gas and could multiply 100 times and still be a trace gas.

The article leaves out the inconvenient fact that dihydrogen oxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas and is responsible for between 76-90% of all warming. Yet, not a peep on this very well known and widely accepted warming villain.

Keep running and screaming chicken little alarmists. The more you yell, the less people believe you. And thanks for reducing Atmospheric Science to the quackery level. Good people have worked very hard to research what is going on in the atmosphere above us and in a few pen strokes, you have made it impossible for the truth and facts to get out.

Yes, everyone, the sky is falling, RUN! You will be cooked alive just like the frog that jumps into the pan of cold water and is too stupid to notice that someone turned the heat on. Heaven forbid you take a chemistry class or READ real science articles.

And the diagram is wrong. There is IR that is not partially absorbed and is just emitted into space. Then you have some that is absorbed by the atom or molecule and is re-emitted; some back to earth, some to the atmosphere, and some into space. It should also be said that the Earth's peak IR emission is around 10 picometers. You can pull up a chart that shows where CO2 absorbs at and it isn't at 10 picometers.

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