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WMO: Ocean acidification rate unprecedented for last 300 million years at least; atmospheric CO2 increase largest in 30 years, surprising scientists. PBS Newshour: Diminished ability of biosphere to absorb more CO2 suspected.

September 24, 2014 10:51 am0 comments

World Meteorological Organization, Global Atmosphere WatchThe increase of atmospheric Co2 from 2012-2013 was the largest in 30 years according to the World Meteorological Organization’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. From the report’s summary:

The increase… of 2.9 ppm is greater than the increase from 2011 to 2012, the average growth rate for the 1990s (~1.5 ppm yr–1), and the average growth rate for the past decade (~2.1 ppm yr–1).

The report showed that carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide concentrations have increased 42%, 153%, and 21% respectively compared to preindustrial levels. The increase of 2.9 PPM in the CO2 concentrations was apparently more than scientists were expecting from their data on fossil fuel emissions. From the report’s section on CO2:

Recent increases in emissions of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion (~2% yr-1) or (~o.2 PgC yr-1) cannot explain the interannual variability in CO2 growth rate nor the greater-than-average increase in annual means from 2012-2013.

PBS Newshour reported that this is leading scientists to suspect a diminished ability of the oceans and plant life to absorb further levels of CO2.

Recent Forum dialogue on the topic:

Dr. Scott DenningDr. Scott Denning: Only half of the CO2 emitted by the burning of fossil fuels stays in the atmosphere. So half of the CO2 that has been emitted through the whole history of the industrial revolution–burning coal, oil, and gas–half of that is gone. Where did it go? Half of the missing carbon not in the air is in the ocean. You can find it… But that means the other half of the missing carbon goes into the land… Things are growing faster than they are dying–and this is across the world, which was a shock [when scientists discovered this a few decades ago.] So with the new Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, [a new satellite recently launched a few months ago,] we hope to learn more about where that is happening, how that is happening, whether it will keep happening, whether that carbon taken up from the atmosphere by the plants will come back anytime soon.

As for the oceans, the WMO report concluded that ocean acidification, which is caused by the absorption of all this excess CO2, appears to be increasing at a level unprecedented in the past 300 million years at least. As discussed by Dr. Richard Feely, a NOAA Fellow and ocean acidification expert (see video in “Climate Change Discussion in Houston” by Dr. Barry Lefer), this is a dire long-term threat to the coral reefs of the world and shell-forming creatures, which many of the world’s fish stocks rely on.

Recent Forum dialogue on the topic:

Lulu Liu

Ms. Lulu Liu: [H]ow much carbon can our oceans take up? When, if ever, would the climate then return to its pre-perturbed state? What would the earth look like in the interim, in the far term?

By unearthing and burning fossil fuels, in our cars, factories, and electrical plants, we are harnessing energy by shortcutting a process which naturally occurs on geological time scales. About 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide are now added per year into the atmosphere directly by the burning of fossil fuels. A rate 100 times greater than that of volcanic emissions. As a result, atmospheric carbon, according to ice-core records which go back 800,000 years, is at its highest ever level.


Dr. Richard Feely (via post by Dr. Barry Lefer): The current rate of acidification is at least ten times faster than anything we have seen over the past 50 million years.

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