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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 04/30/2008

In Focus: Greenhouse Gas Increases Accelerating

By Steve Scolnik

More detailed measurements encouraged

Global average CO2 concentrations since 2004 (monthly values in red, long-term trend in black). Click here to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that increases in two major greenhouse gases accelerated in 2007.

Carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary contributor to global warming, increased by 0.6%, which represents an addition to the atmosphere of 19 billion tons, or 2.4 parts per million (ppm). This brings the total atmospheric concentration to about 385 ppm, an increase of 37.5% from the pre-industrial level of 280 ppm prior to 1850. The annual increases of 2 ppm -- common since 2000 -- are up from 1.5 ppm annually in the 1980s and less than 1 ppm per year in the 1960s.

Although CO2 is well mixed in the atmosphere, knowledge of regional distribution of sources and sinks of the gas requires more detailed measurements than the average values reported by NOAA.

Keep reading for more on the greenhouse gas increases. See our full forecast through the weekend, and NatCast for today's game at Nationals Park.

In a commentary article in the April 25 edition of Science, a magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, University of Colorado and NOAA researchers suggest that the global monitoring network should be made 10 times larger -- by increasing the number of measuring sites from about 100 to 1,000 -- to better track progress in emission reductions.

Global average methane concentrations since 2004 (monthly values in red, long-term trend in black). Click here to enlarge. Credit: NOAA

NOAA also announced that methane, which is 25 times stronger than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, increased for the first year since 1998. Fortunately for climate effects, methane density in the atmosphere is much less than for CO2, about 1.8 ppm.

One of the biggest wildcards in climate prediction, however, involves the potential feedback effects from increasing methane. Very large amounts of methane are currently trapped in the form of clathrate, an ice-like structure that embeds methane molecules within a solid water molecule lattice. Release of this methane from arctic permafrost or ocean sediments could lead to accelerated greenhouse warming. Under a theory called the "Clathrate Gun Hypothesis," destabilization of the clathrate reservoir could lead to drastic climate consequences.

A 2006 article, "Shallow Seabed Methane Gas Could Pose Coastal Hazard," in the American Geophysical Union's Eos publication explored the possible effects on climate change and sea level rise in the next century from methane "generated in shallow seabed sediments on continental margins, especially in rapidly deposited muddy sediments with high organic matter content." An article last year by Swedish, Russian and German researchers, "Nearshore Arctic Subsea Permafrost in Transition" raises the issue of whether "degradation of subsea permafrost and the consequent destabilization of gas hydrates could significantly if not dramatically increase the flux of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere."

Other coverage of NOAA's greenhouse gas data was provided by the New York Times (Levels of Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere Increase) and AFP (Greenhouse gas levels rose in 2007: US agency).

By Steve Scolnik  | April 30, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Next: CommuteCast: Partly Cloudy, Pleasantly Cool


This reminds me of the time when certain a******s in Congress were criticizing researchers for "wasting" taxpayer monies by measuring bovine methane emissions.

Posted by: nat | April 30, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Just a reminder that we do monitor comments, and do not tolerate impersonations that use the exact same name as another commenter. Feel free to email us with any questions on this.

Posted by: Capital Weather Gang | April 30, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting, though, that NOAA, which is the country's foremost expert institution on atmospheric sciences, and hires some of the best climatological scientists in the buisness, has yet to buy into the global warming theories, even with CO2 emissions increasing. Apparantly CO2 emissions are not the worldwide evil that they are so often portrayed to be. That Nobel Peace Prize so quickly and impulsively handed out to Al Gore may have been given a little prematurely, with little real thought to its validity.

Posted by: Mike | April 30, 2008 2:35 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Thomas Karl, NOAA's chief climo guy, has testified under oath that "There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | April 30, 2008 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Problem: in 2007 temperatures were down worldwide on average, yet CO2 went up. I don't think 1-year numbers mean much of anything in terms of global patterns, but if the poster wants to open that door, may as well walk through it and see what the correlation between temperatures and CO2 was for that time period. Turns out it was negative, not positive.

Posted by: tagryn | April 30, 2008 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Re: Tagyrn's post ... I don't know if your facts are right, but is one year of negative correlation actually a meaningful observation? What core proposition does it make significantly more or less likely?

Let's assume that there remains uncertainty about the impact of human behavior on climate change. Given the stakes, shouldn't our behavior as a species be guided by the presumption that it is us and that we can still act to improve (or at least forestall the decline of) our lot?

Posted by: Charlie | April 30, 2008 9:17 PM | Report abuse

One year is obviously not a trend.

Posted by: Steve, Capital Weather Gang | April 30, 2008 10:33 PM | Report abuse

Those interested in views of climate science other than those routinely found at this site look here:

As others have expressed, I wish CWG stayed more focused on DC weather as it has otherwise promised to do in the "about this blog" section of the site.

Posted by: Artjohn | May 1, 2008 8:46 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

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