A never-ending stream of carbon pollution ensures that each year the world continues to break records for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This year will be no different.
Like a rite of spring, carbon dioxide is poised to cruise pass the previous mark set last year and reach heights unseen in human history. In the coming weeks, carbon dioxide will start to breach the 410 parts per million threshold on a daily basis at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The monthly average for May could come close to topping 410 ppm, too, according to the U.K. Met Office’s inaugural carbon dioxide forecast, released last week.
Richard Betts, a climate scientist who helped create the forecast, said we should pass last year’s record-setting monthly peak by April or even as soon as this month. It’s not a question of if but rather when depending on wind patterns and other factors that influence daily measurements.
This year’s new high-water mark comes a year after the planet passed the 400 ppm threshold permanently on the back of the greatest yearly rise in carbon dioxide on record. That dramatic rise was driven in part by last year’s super El Niño, but the underlying cause of the steady uptick is human activities that emit carbon pollution.
The string of carbon dioxide records is a running reminder that those activities are altering the basic chemistry of our atmosphere and destabilizing the climate that’s allowed civilization to flourish.
While 2017 is unlikely to see a rise as dramatic as 2016’s El Niño-fueled peak, the Met Office forecast said this year is still expected to see an above-average increase. Carbon dioxide is forecast to rise another 2.5 ppm this year.
The forecast is based on research done by Met Office scientists last year that uses equatorial Pacific Ocean temperatures in the El Niño region coupled with carbon pollution data.
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