Phil Plait of Slate notes the report by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration that on May 9th, 2013, atmospheric levels of CO2 hit a new record high.
Welcome to the new age of climate change. Its here, and its here to stay.
The measurements were made by the Scripps Oceanographic Institute using a device located at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii. They are the longest-running measurements of their kind anywhere in the world, with continuous readings since 1958, started by Dr. Charles Keeling hence the term Keeling Curve for the plot. While its measured in Hawaii, its proven to be a pretty good indicator of worldwide levels.
The device measures the amount of carbon dioxide in dry air, and expresses the result as number of molecules per million, usually called parts per million. So for every million molecules of air measured (mostly nitrogen and oxygen), 400 of those molecules are CO2.
It doesnt sound like much, does it? Yet the affect is profound. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas; it is transparent to visible light, but opaque to far infrared. So sunlight passes through it easily, hitting the Earths surface. The ground then warms up and emits infrared light. However, that light cannot get out; it is absorbed by the CO2. This retains the heat, warming the Earth up. Thats why CO2 is monitored so carefully; it has a direct link to global warming.
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