Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Reach Record High of 400ppm
Scientists at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii have confirmed that the heat-trapping greenhouse gases in our atmosphere have reached unprecedented levels, unseen for more than 3 million years.
New data released by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) have passed the ominous milestone of 400 parts per million (ppm).
Professor Ralph Keeling from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii said:
"It is symbolic, a point to pause and think about where we have been and where we are going. It’s like turning 50. It’s a wake up to what has been building up in front of us all along."
According to experts, when our planet was last exposed to equivalent levels of greenhouse gases, global temperatures were 3-4°C hotter and sea levels were 5-40 meters higher than today.
Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics said:
"We are creating a prehistoric climate in which human societies will face huge and potentially catastrophic risks. Only by urgently reducing global emissions will we be able to avoid the full consequences of turning back the climate clock by 3 million years."
Scientists are particularly alarmed at the fast-pace of rising emissions levels. Some of them have expressed hope that this moment could provide leaders with a much-needed wake-up call.
A range of high-profile voices are now urging decision-makers to tackle rocketing emissions and prepare for unavoidable climate impacts.
"We’ve known for a long time that we’d pass the 400ppm mark; the trouble is, we’re passing it without any real national or international effort to slow down the production of CO2. So it’s an entirely grim landmark.
"Before we can get back to 350 we actually have to stop increasing carbon concentrations. That’s a political task; it’s why we’re trying to build a movement strong enough to stand up to the fossil fuel industry."
Crossing the 400ppm threshold is being heralded as a symbolic milestone. It is based on a record daily average reading from one—rather iconic—site, while another measuring station at the same location measured a daily average for the same date just below the mark.
It will likely be another few years until global average concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere reach 400ppm, according to experts at the World Meteorological Organization.
The speed at which levels of CO2 are rising is the fundamental threat revealed by the flurry of attention devoted to a symbolic moment in the state of our changing climate.
The planet could reach the 1,000ppm level in only 100 years if emissions continue to rise at their present pace, whereas an increase of just 10ppm might have taken 1,000 years or more as part of a natural cycle, without the impacts of a high carbon economy.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:email@example.com" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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