Warming gas levels hit 'troubling milestone'

By | June 4, 2012

The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant.

Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn’t quite a surprise, because it’s been rising at an accelerating pace. Years ago, it passed the 350 ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.

So far, only the Arctic has reached that 400 level, but the rest of the world will follow soon.

“The fact that it’s 400 is significant,” said Jim Butler, global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo. “It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this and we’re still in trouble.”

Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. Some carbon dioxide is natural, mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals. Before the Industrial Age, levels were around 275 parts per million.

For more than 60 years, readings have been in the 300s, except in urban areas, where levels are skewed. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.

  It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.

Until now.

Readings are coming in at 400 and higher all over the Arctic. They’ve been recorded in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and even Mongolia. But levels change with the seasons and will drop a bit in the summer, when plants suck up carbon dioxide, NOAA scientists said.

So the yearly average for those northern stations likely will be lower and so will the global number.

Globally, the average carbon dioxide level is about 395 parts per million but will pass the 400 mark within a few years, scientists said.

… political dynamics in the United States mean there’s no possibility of significant restrictions on man-made greenhouse gases no matter what the levels are in the air, said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow of the libertarian Cato Institute.

via Warming gas levels hit ‘troubling milestone’ | World news | The Guardian.

… Scientists feel that the planet can handle 350 ppm on an on going basis, and that the discussions should not be about stalling CO2 at 387, but bringing it back down to under 350 ppm.  They would prefer to see it back down to 287 ppm. To give you an idea it of what it would take to lower these emissions back down, it would take an 80% reduction of current CO2 output over 10 years.  To achieve this type of reduction would take a massive shift in society – from industry to diet, and with some fortitude, the introduction of new technologies to capture airborne CO2 particles.  Such devices have been drawn up, and are waiting for funding to build a fully functioning prototype.  Closing the gap in CO2 emissions are crucial for our existence.  We do know the more warming that goes on out there, the threat to our planet  and ourselves only increases.

  via earthyreport.com

I found this question, not really from a global warming denier, but from a climate change “so what-er”:

“If the dinos could live with such high CO2 levels for millions of years, please explain to me, why should WE worry?” – link

Seriously? Perhaps if this person was placed underwater and asked to stay alive, they might admit that humans are unable to survive in some environments where other animals can. Whales can live under the ocean, why should WE worry about the ocean swallowing the Maldives?

No problem, there will still be land above ground. Yeah, but it will be a lot hotter. Right now, CO2 makes up about 0.035% of the atmosphere.

… about 100 million years ago, the atmosphere was about 3% carbon dioxide. Big forests of giant ferns grew up because of all the carbon dioxide in the air, and the Earth got so warm that dinosaurs could live near the South Pole.” – link

Let’s say the CO2 reaches 3% and displaces the oxygen and we end up with a 17.9% oxygen atmosphere. What’s the big deal about that?  I assume that there is a good reason for the CDC standard for full face air purifying respirators:

The minimum allowable oxygen concentration shall be 19.5 percent.

An O2 level of 6 to 8 percent is 100 percent fatal in 8 minutes according to ANL.gov, but 17.9% O2 would make you uncoordinated, unable to work strenuously, and you’d have heart and lung problems. I think you’d be very uncomfortable, less intelligent, and you’d die much sooner.

The following image is Cyanosis of the hand in someone with low oxygen saturation:


Generalized hypoxia occurs in healthy people when they ascend to high altitude, where it causes altitude sickness leading to potentially fatal complications: high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) and high altitude cerebral edema (HACE).[2] Hypoxia also occurs in healthy individuals when breathing mixtures of gases with a low oxygen content, e.g. while diving underwater especially when using closed-circuit rebreather systems that control the amount of oxygen in the supplied air. A mild and non-damaging intermittent hypoxia is used intentionally during altitude trainings to develop an athletic performance adaptation at both the systemic and cellular level.[3]

via Wikipedia

How did Dinosaurs survive in low O2? They could do something we can’t, biologically.

Dinosaurs appeared on Earth about 230 million years ago, when atmospheric oxygen levels were close to half what they are today. Scientists wonder how they

survived – for 165 million years – under these varying conditions. UC Irvine biologist James Hicks is finding answers in the alligator, a modern relative of the dinosaur.

In a recent study, Hicks and UCI postdoctoral researcher Tomasz Owerkowicz found that alligators incubated and raised in an environment with just 12 percent oxygen (compared to today’s 21 percent) had larger hearts and lungs and improved cardiopulmonary function.

“In a similar vein, the success of dinosaurs probably depended on the effectiveness of their lungs and hearts in obtaining oxygen from air and distributing it throughout the body,” Hicks says. “Our results provide indirect evidence that dinosaurs must have had superior oxygen delivery systems.”

Such findings are important because the Earth’s atmosphere is changing: Oxygen levels are dropping, while carbon dioxide levels are rising.

“Our experiments may help us understand how some animals will be able to adapt to environmental change in the near future,” Hicks says. “They may help us identify which animals are likely to survive and which might become extinct in new atmospheric conditions.”

Large reptiles such as alligators have existed in their basic form for about 220 million years, surviving large oxygen fluctuations. To study how they adapt, Hicks and Owerkowicz incubated alligator eggs at different oxygen levels – 12 percent, 21 percent and 30 percent (Earth’s peak level, occurring about 300 million years ago).

Hatchlings from the two higher-oxygen groups had no obvious physical differences, but those from the oxygen-starved group had swollen bellies. Researchers believe there was not enough oxygen for the developing embryos to consume all of their egg-yolk food, leaving them with huge yolk-distended potbellies. They also were smaller, except for their hearts, which were large, presumably to maximize the limited oxygen supply. …

After three months in their respective atmospheres, the low-oxygen alligators had compensated by developing enlarged lungs, resulting in an increased metabolic rate.

“The metabolic rate determines everything an animal is capable of doing – running, digesting, keeping warm, growing and reproducing,” Owerkowicz says. “The basic function of alligators – the resting metabolic rate – was different just because the oxygen level was different.”

via UCI.edu

I guess we could strap oxygen concentrators to our backs…

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