HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For decades, a small research lab atop Mauna Loa has measured carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
The lab, in different iterations and with shifting sources of funding, has been collecting data since 1958 — showing the world the rise in carbon dioxide levels that are driving climate change.
Greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, are those responsible for the greenhouse effect.
And last month, carbon dioxide levels set a new and foreboding milestone.
The lab’s scientists reported this week carbon dioxide levels measured at the Mauna Loa facility hit a record monthly average high in February: 411.66 parts per million.
The previous monthly average record — 411.31 parts per million — was set in May 2018.
The fact that a new record high was set is concerning enough, but not all that unusual. What scientists were more troubled by is the fact that it was set in February.
Peak carbon levels are usually seen a little later in the year.
Ralph Keeling, the director of carbon dioxide program at the Scripps Institution of Oceangraphy — which runs the Mauna Loa lab with NOAA — said setting a record in February is “rare, but not unprecedented.”
“In most years, the previous maximum is surpassed in March or April,” he said, adding that “the February record breaking is a measure of just how fast carbon dioxide has been rising in the past months.”
He also said, in a Twitter post, that the recent rapid rise is “not surprising with the combination of weak El Nino conditions and unprecedented emissions from fossil-fuel burning.”
In fact, meteorologists in the United Kingdom have predicted that carbon dioxide levels in 2019 will increase at a faster clip than in the last two years.
Scientists have warned that the growth rate of carbon dioxide levels is accelerating.
Increases averaged 1.6 parts per million per year in the 1980s and 1.5 parts per million in the 1990s.
But during the last decade, annual increases have averaged 2.2 parts per million.
“Carbon dioxide levels are continuing to grow at an all-time record rate because emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas are also at record high levels,” said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, in a post on the Scripps lab website last year.
“Today’s emissions will still be trapping heat in the atmosphere thousands of years from now.”
He has said that if the current rate of increase holds for another 20 years, global carbon dioxide levels will easily surpass 450 parts per million in 2038.
At those levels, scientists predict, the Earth would warm by 2 degrees Celsius and trigger a host of other climate consequences.