CC5C. Stay Current—How Is Carbon Dioxide Measured?

Climate Change cover

Staying current for Chapter 5.

{ Climate Change Contents }

See Non-chronological resources for this chapter (bottom of page).

2023-02-06. Battling Lava and Snowstorms, 2.5 Miles Above the Pacific. [] By Raymond Zhong, The New York Times. Excerpt: Two and a half miles above the Pacific, with the combined exhalations of a vast swath of humankind and its cars and factories blowing toward him, Aidan Colton looked out over the volcano’s snow-streaked summit and lifted up a glass flask the size of a coconut. He held his breath — even the carbon dioxide from his lungs might corrupt the sample. After a moment, he opened the valve. The air he is collecting at Mauna Kea is feeding the world’s longest-running record of direct readings of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. …in November, Mauna Loa erupted for the first time in almost 40 years. No one was hurt, but lava flows up to 30 feet deep toppled the observatory’s power lines and buried a mile of the main road up the mountain. The facility was paralyzed. It took a transoceanic scramble, and a dose of luck, for scientists with the Mauna Loa observatory to restart their readings — by taking them, for the first time, on Mauna Kea, the next volcano over….

2022-12-02. Mauna Loa Eruption Threatens a Famous Climate Record. [] By Elena Shao, The New York Times. Excerpt: Atop the Mauna Loa volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii, a little more than two miles above sea level, a 124-foot aluminum tower has been collecting carbon dioxide measurements nearly every hour, every day, for over 60 years. That stopped on Sunday night, when Mauna Loa erupted and the flow of lava cut off power to the monitoring lab there. On Thursday, lava was still moving downhill from the volcano, overtaking roads, but posing few risks to nearby communities. It was a rare interruption in the data collection that has produced the world’s longest running continuous record of the rising levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere….

2020-06-04. Rise of carbon dioxide unabated. By NOAA. Excerpt: Atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa Observatory reached a seasonal peak of 417.1 parts per million for 2020 in May, the highest monthly reading ever recorded, scientists from NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego announced today. …“Progress in emissions reductions is not visible in the CO2 record,” said Pieter Tans, senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory. ”We continue to commit our planet – for centuries or longer – to more global heating, sea level rise, and extreme weather events every year.” If humans were to suddenly stop emitting CO2, it would take thousands of years for our CO2 emissions so far to be absorbed into the deep ocean and atmospheric CO2 to return to pre-industrial levels…. [

2020-02-20. The Future of the Carbon Cycle in a Changing Climate. By By Aleya Kaushik, Jake Graham, Kalyn Dorheim, Ryan Kramer, Jonathan Wang, and Brendan Byrne, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Over the past 50 years, a growing wealth of long-term atmosphere, ocean, and ecosystem observations has provided essential insights into how climate change affects the ways that carbon moves through Earth’s environment, yet many fundamental questions remain unanswered. Perhaps the most challenging and societally relevant question is whether the rate at which the land and ocean can sequester carbon will continue to keep pace with rising carbon dioxide emissions. Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) stemming from human activities are rapidly and dramatically altering Earth’s climate. Warmer temperatures drive longer and more destructive fire seasons, shifting precipitation patterns cause flooding in some areas and drought in others, and ocean acidification threatens marine life across the globe. However, land and ocean ecosystems act as natural buffers that limit the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere by absorbing and sequestering nearly half of emitted CO2. Although anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, this natural climate change mitigation has so far proportionally kept pace with emissions, limiting global warming to a certain extent (Figure 1). This situation could change, however. For example, although tropical forests in the Amazon have been CO2 sinks over the past 50 years, increasing land use change, drought, fires, and tree deaths in recent years may have tipped the balance, making this region a periodic net carbon source…. [

2018-12-13. One Fifth of Los Angeles’s CO2 Rises from Lawns and Golf Courses. By Katherine Kornei, Eos/AGU. [] Excerpt: Measurements of carbon-14 show that roughly 20% of carbon dioxide emissions in the Los Angeles Basin are likely due to the decay of plants in managed landscapes….  

2017-06-26. Carbon in Atmosphere Is Rising, Even as Emissions Stabilize. By Justin Gillis, The New York Times. Excerpt: CAPE GRIM, Tasmania — …a bank of sophisticated machines sniffs that air day and night, revealing telltale indicators of the way human activity is altering the planet on a major scale. For more than two years, the monitoring station here, along with its counterparts across the world, has been flashing a warning: The excess carbon dioxide scorching the planet rose at the highest rate on record in 2015 and 2016. A slightly slower but still unusual rate of increase has continued into 2017. Scientists are concerned about the cause of the rapid rises because, in one of the most hopeful signs since the global climate crisis became widely understood in the 1980s, the amount of carbon dioxide that people are pumping into the air seems to have stabilized in recent years, at least judging from the data that countries compile on their own emissions. …If the amount of the gas that people are putting out has stopped rising, how can the amount that stays in the air be going up faster than ever? Does it mean the natural sponges that have been absorbing carbon dioxide are now changing? …less than half of the gas was remaining in the atmosphere and warming the planet. The rest was being absorbed by the ocean and the land surface, in roughly equal amounts. …In essence, these natural sponges were doing humanity a huge service by disposing of much of its gaseous waste. But as emissions have risen higher and higher, it has been unclear how much longer the natural sponges will be able to keep up. …Scientists say their inability to know for certain is a reflection not just of the scientific difficulty of the problem, but also of society’s failure to invest in an adequate monitoring system to keep up with the profound changes humans are wreaking on the planet. “It’s really bare bones, our network, contrary to common misperceptions about the government wasting money,” said Pieter Tans, chief of a unit that monitors greenhouse gases at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. …Dr. Tans said that if global emissions flattened out at today’s high level, the world would still be in grave trouble. “If emissions were to stay flat for the next two decades, which could be called an achievement in some sense, it’s terrible for the climate problem,” he said….

2014-11-17. A Year In The Life Of Earth’s CO2. NASA Goddard Media Studios. Excerpt: An ultra-high-resolution NASA computer model has given scientists a stunning new look at how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe. Plumes of carbon dioxide in the simulation swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources. The simulation also illustrates differences in carbon dioxide levels in the northern and southern hemispheres and distinct swings in global carbon dioxide concentrations as the growth cycle of plants and trees changes with the seasons…. – Press Release: – For detailed views of various parts of the world, visit:

2014-07-02. NASA Launches New Carbon-Sensing Mission to Monitor Earth’s Breathing.Excerpt: NASA successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide at 2:56 a.m. PDT…. The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) … soon will begin a minimum two-year mission to locate Earth’s sources of and storage places for atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world and a critical component of the planet’s carbon cycle. …OCO-2 will … produce the most detailed picture to date of natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks” — places on Earth’s surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time. …Carbon dioxide sinks are at the heart of a longstanding scientific puzzle that has made it difficult for scientists to accurately predict how carbon dioxide levels will change in the future and how those changing concentrations will affect Earth’s climate. …OCO-2 science operations will begin about 45 days after launch. …The observatory will uniformly sample the atmosphere above Earth’s land and waters, collecting more than 100,000 precise individual measurements of carbon dioxide over Earth’s entire sunlit hemisphere every day.  …OCO-2 also will measure a phenomenon called solar-induced fluorescence, an indicator of plant growth and health. As plants photosynthesize and take up carbon dioxide, they fluoresce and give off a tiny amount of light that is invisible to the naked eye. Because more photosynthesis translates into more fluorescence, fluorescence data from OCO-2 will help shed new light on the uptake of carbon dioxide by plants…. By NASA RELEASE 14-182.

2014-03-21. Key climate-change measurement imperiled. Excerpt: …The “Keeling curve,” the most famous measurement of the world’s rising levels of carbon dioxide for the past six decades, is in jeopardy from funding shortfalls. …run by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, [it] is the longest continuous record of carbon dioxide measurements on the planet. The measurements were begun in 1958 by Scripps climate scientist Charles David Keeling and are taken near the top of Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Keeling died in 2005, and his son, Ralph, is now the keeper of the “curve.” ….Carbon dioxide levels were around 280 “parts per million” (ppm) before the Industrial Revolution, when humans first began releasing large amounts into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. They’re now near 400 ppm. …Keeling said … that the past year was especially difficult because several grants expired. …All of this comes against the backdrop of last week’s CO2 rise above 400 ppm at Mauna Loa for the second straight year. (CO2 levels peak in the spring when plants come alive, then decrease when the plants die in the autumn.) Keeling says that … “It’s just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever,” he said. Consistent levels above 400 ppm haven’t been seen in human history and perhaps as long as millions of years. “We are living in extraordinary times,” Keeling said…. Doyle Rice, USA Today. 

2013-05-01.  Global CO2 Levels Approach Worrisome Milestone. Excerpt: …Near the moonscape summit of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, an infrared analyzer will soon make history. Sometime in the next month, it is expected to record a daily concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of more than 400 parts per million (p.p.m.), a value not reached at this key surveillance point for a few million years. There will be no balloons or noisemakers to celebrate the event. Researchers who monitor greenhouse gases will regard it more as a disturbing marker of humanity’s power to alter the chemistry of the atmosphere and by extension, the climate of the planet. At 400 p.p.m., nations will have a difficult time keeping global warming in check, says Corinne Le Quéré, a climate researcher at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, who says that the impact “is getting very dangerously close to reaching the 2 °C target that governments around the world have pledged not to exceed”….  Richard Monastersky and Nature magazine, Scientific American. 

2012-06-27. The Berkeley Atmospheric CO2 Observation Network (BEACO2N). For GSS Climate Change chapter 5. BERKELEY — The City of Oakland will be ground zero for the first urban sensor network to provide real-time, neighborhood-by-neighborhood measurements of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming – and other air pollutants. The prototype network, being installed by chemists at the University of California, Berkeley, will employ 40 sensors spread over a 27 square-mile grid, most of them mounted atop local schools to engage students in the project. The information the network will provide could be used to monitor local carbon dioxide emissions to check on the effectiveness of carbon-reduction strategies now mandated by the state, but hard to verify….  The state has committed to a cap and trade strategy as an attempt to lower carbon emissions, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District instituted a carbon fee on regional businesses in 2008. But carbon taxes rely on reports by local agencies and businesses that estimate their emissions based on assumptions that may be wrong…. UC Berkeley graduate student Virginia (Jill) Teige, who designed the sensors, said “no one is actually measuring CO2 at a fine enough resolution to confirm whether the reports are right or not. The idea of putting up a network to monitor emissions is like measuring how fast everyone is driving in order to confirm that people are abiding by the speed limit.” . By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News Center. 

2010 December 21. A Scientist, His Work, and a Climate Reckoning. By Justin Gillis, NYTimes. Excerpt: MAUNA LOA OBSERVATORY, Hawaii — Two gray machines sit inside a pair of utilitarian buildings here, sniffing the fresh breezes that blow across thousands of miles of ocean….
…The first machine of this type was installed on Mauna Loa in the 1950s at the behest of Charles David Keeling, a scientist from San Diego. His resulting discovery, of the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, transformed the scientific understanding of humanity’s relationship with the earth. A graph of his findings is inscribed on a wall in Washington as one of the great achievements of modern science.
Yet, five years after Dr. Keeling’s death, his discovery is a focus not of celebration but of conflict. It has become the touchstone of a worldwide political debate over global warming…

2009 October 8. Last time carbon dioxide levels were this high: 15 million years ago, scientists report. EurekAlert. Excerpt: You would have to go back at least 15 million years to find carbon dioxide levels on Earth as high as they are today, a UCLA scientist and colleagues report Oct. 8 in the online edition of the journal Science.
“The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today — and were sustained at those levels — global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland,” said the paper’s lead author, Aradhna Tripati, a UCLA assistant professor in the department of Earth and space sciences and the department of atmospheric and oceanic sciences.
…By analyzing the chemistry of bubbles of ancient air trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists have been able to determine the composition of Earth’s atmosphere going back as far as 800,000 years, and they have developed a good understanding of how carbon dioxide levels have varied in the atmosphere since that time. But there has been little agreement before this study on how to reconstruct carbon dioxide levels prior to 800,000 years ago.
…”A slightly shocking finding,” Tripati said, “is that the only time in the last 20 million years that we find evidence for carbon dioxide levels similar to the modern level of 387 parts per million was 15 to 20 million years ago, when the planet was dramatically different.”
Levels of carbon dioxide have varied only between 180 and 300 parts per million over the last 800,000 years — until recent decades, said Tripati, who is also a member of UCLA’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. It has been known that modern-day levels of carbon dioxide are unprecedented over the last 800,000 years, but the finding that modern levels have not been reached in the last 15 million years is new….

2009 February 24. NASA Satellite Fails to Reach Orbit. By Kenneth Chang, the NY Times. Excerpt: A NASA satellite to track carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere failed to reach its orbit during launching Tuesday morning, scuttling the $278 million mission.
…The Orbiting Carbon Observatory lifted off on schedule at 1:55 a.m. Pacific time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a four-stage Taurus XL rocket.
But three minutes later, during the burning of the third stage, the payload fairing — a clamshell nose cone that protects the satellite as it rises through the atmosphere — failed to separate as commanded.
The third and fourth stages burned properly, but because of the added weight of the nose cone, the satellite did not reach orbit.
…The satellite fell back to Earth, landing in the ocean just short of Antarctica.
…The carbon observatory was to precisely measure levels of carbon dioxide — the heat-trapping gas that is driving global warming — in the air. Scientists had hoped the new data, covering the entire planet, would help them improve climate models and better understand the “carbon sinks” like oceans and forests and that absorb much of the carbon dioxide….

2009 February 23. NASA-Funded Carbon Dioxide Map Of U.S. Released On Google Earth. ScienceDaily. Excerpt: Interactive maps that detail carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion are now available on the popular Google Earth platform. The maps, funded by NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy through the joint North American Carbon Program, can display fossil fuel emissions by the hour, geographic region, and fuel type.
…Researchers from the project, named “Vulcan” for the Roman god of fire, constructed an unprecedented inventory of the carbon dioxide that results from the burning of 48 different types of fossil fuel. The data-based maps show estimates of the hourly carbon dioxide outputs of factories, power plants, vehicle traffic and residential and commercial areas.
…“The release of the Vulcan inventory on Google Earth brings this information into the living room of anyone with an Internet connection,” said Kevin Gurney, an assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue and leader of the Vulcan Project. “From a societal perspective, Vulcan provides a description of where and when society influences climate change through fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions.”…

2009 January 29. NASA RELEASE: 09-021. NASA Mission to Help Unravel Key Carbon, Climate Mysteries. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide is in final preparations for a Feb. 23 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Carbon dioxide is the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth’s climate. 
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory will provide the first complete picture of human and natural carbon dioxide sources as well as their “sinks,” the places where carbon dioxide is pulled out of the atmosphere and stored. It will map the global geographic distribution of these sources and sinks and study their changes over time. The measurements will be combined with data from ground stations, aircraft and other satellites to help answer questions about the processes that regulate atmospheric carbon dioxide and its role in Earth’s climate and carbon cycle. 
…”It’s critical that we understand the processes controlling carbon dioxide in our atmosphere today so we can predict how fast it will build up in the future and how quickly we’ll have to adapt to climate change caused by carbon dioxide buildup,” said David Crisp, principal investigator for the Orbiting Carbon Observatory at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. 
…The new observatory will dramatically improve global carbon dioxide measurements, collecting about 8 million measurements every 16 days for at least two years…. Scientists need these precise measurements because carbon dioxide varies by just 10 parts per million throughout the year on regional to continental scales….

2008 December 4. The Ins and Outs of the Global Carbon Cycle. By Jeremy Jacquot, Science Progress. Excerpt: …Having spent the last few decades piecing together the different components of the global carbon puzzle, scientists now have a good idea of how the planet’s natural carbon sinks (or reservoirs) work—primarily these sinks are plants and the oceans. But when it comes to pinpointing the locations of all the sources (areas or organisms which release carbon dioxide to the atmosphere), there remains a lot of ambiguity—mostly because climate change is constantly changing the picture of how the sources work (and it’s usually changing for the worse). …What many scientists are now worried about is the degree to which carbon sinks could shrink, or carbon sources could grow, in response to the rapid increase in anthropogenic CO2 emissions.
The easiest way to think of the global carbon cycle is as the sum total of different reactions…between and within the planet’s major carbon repositories: the ocean and terrestrial biosphere. The ocean is by far the larger one—estimated to hold about 38,000 petagrams (1 petagram equals one trillion grams); the land plants and soils that make up the terrestrial biosphere store only about 2,000.
…These sinks currently absorb around half of all the carbon dioxide emitted through fossil fuel combustion. Around 85 percent of new anthropogenic CO2 ends up in the ocean… Almost half of the total amount of anthropogenic CO2 that has been added to the atmosphere since pre-industrial times has gone into the ocean.
…scientists are beginning to come to grips with the realization that many erstwhile sinks, primarily plants and soils, could lose their ability to draw down CO2 in a warming world—with a worst-case scenario being that they would turn into sources….

2008 December 1. Carbon Detectives Are Tracking Gases in Colorado. By Susan Moran, The New York Times. Excerpt: BOULDER, Colo. — As she squeezed herself into a telephone-booth-size elevator to ascend a 984-foot tower in Colorado’s eastern plains, Arlyn Andrews said with a grin, “This makes me want to go rock climbing.”
It’s a good thing she loves climbing tall structures. Dr. Andrews, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, climbs the tower periodically to make sure the narrow tubes running from the tower to analyzers nearby are properly taking continuous samples of carbon dioxide, methane and a cocktail of other greenhouse gases.
…“We’re able to detect the whole mix of emissions here — what comes from automobile traffic, from industry, from residential development and from agriculture,” Dr. Andrews said.
She is one of many carbon sleuths, scientists who track and analyze where greenhouse gases come from and where they go over time. Think of it like personal finances. To plan for a sound financial future, it helps to create a budget and keep track of how one is spending money. Similarly, atmospheric scientists need to develop a “budget” for greenhouse gases.
…The key task is measuring the sources, or emissions, of these planet-warming gases, and the “sinks” — forests, cropland and oceans that absorb carbon. This budget can then inform intelligent climate-control policy, whether it be managing one forest or shaping national emissions regulations.
…But uncertainty remains high — often as high as estimates themselves. For instance, researchers think about half of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere gets absorbed by oceans and land, but they do not know precisely where the gases come from and where they end up. This knowledge gap has serious policy implications; until it becomes clear where emissions are going, it will remain difficult to have verifiable credits for sequestering carbon….

2008 November 12. NASA’S Carbon-Sniffing Satellite Sleuth Arrives at Launch Site. NASA RELEASE : 08-285. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — NASA’s first spacecraft dedicated to studying carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth’s climate, has arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to begin final launch preparations. 
The Orbiting Carbon Observatory arrived Nov. 11 at its launch site on California’s central coast after completing a cross-country trip by truck from its manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va….After final tests, the spacecraft will be integrated onto an Orbital Sciences Taurus rocket in preparation for its planned January 2009 launch. 
The observatory will help solve some of the lingering mysteries in our understanding of Earth’s carbon cycle and its primary atmospheric component, carbon dioxide, a chemical compound that is produced both naturally and through human activities….
…The observatory’s space-based measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide will have the precision, resolution and coverage needed to provide the first complete picture of both human and natural sources of carbon dioxide emissions. It will show the places where they are absorbed, known as “sinks,” at regional scales everywhere on Earth. Its data will reduce uncertainties in forecasts of how much carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere and improve the accuracy of global climate change predictions….

2008 April 7,Breath of a Nation – Animated CO2 Map. By ANDREW C. REVKIN. Scientists have come up with a new way to precisely track daily and local patterns of carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels by power plants, factories, and vehicle traffic. The resulting database and maps provide a view of the “industrial metabolism” of our combustion-powered lives, Kevin Gurney, the leader in the project and an atmospheric scientist at Purdue, told me today.
A YouTube video produced by the team, which did the work with funding from NASA and the Department of Energy, includes fascinating animations showing the daily burst of emissions as industry and traffic kick into gear, and also reveals regional patterns showing that the Southeast is a bigger contributor to emissions than researchers realized. For more info, see article at Purdue website.

2007 December 16. Climate Plan Looks Beyond Bush’s Tenure. By THOMAS FULLER and ANDREW C. REVKIN, NY Times. Excerpt: NUSA DUA, Indonesia – The world’s faltering effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions got a new lease on life on Saturday, as delegates from 187 countries agreed to negotiate a new accord over the next two years…. Many officials and environmental campaigners said American negotiators had remained obstructionist until the final hour of the two-week convention and had changed their stance only after public rebukes that included boos and hisses from other delegates. The resulting “Bali Action Plan” contains no binding commitments, which European countries had sought and the United States fended off. The plan concludes that “deep cuts in global emissions will be required” and provides a timetable for two years of talks to shape the first formal addendum to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty since the Kyoto Protocol 10 years ago. … in the final tumultuous plenary, when the American team was booed for trying to block a proposal by India. Kevin Conrad, the negotiator from Papua New Guinea, rebuked the American delegation. “If for some reason you are not killing to lead, leave it to the rest of us,” he said. “Please, get out of the way.” He was alluding to remarks made by an American official, James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, last week to a Reuters reporter, who quoted him as saying,”The U.S. will lead, and we will continue to lead, but leadership also requires others to fall in line and follow.” That statement had become a sore point to many delegations. A few more statements were made, but none of America’s traditional allies came to its defense. Finally, Paula Dobriansky, the lead American negotiator, spoke.”We came here to Bali because we want to go forward as part of a new framework,” said Ms. Dobriansky, the under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs. “We believe we have a shared vision and we want to move that forward. We want a success here in Bali. We will go forward and join consensus.” The delegates erupted in lengthy applause, realizing that a deal was finally at hand.

2007 November 1. Is the ocean carbon sink sinking? RealClimate website. –David. Excerpt: The past few weeks and years have seen a bushel of papers finding that the natural world, in particular perhaps the ocean, is getting fed up with absorbing our CO2… evidence that the hypothesized carbon cycle positive feedback has begun.
…If changing climate were to cause the natural world to slow down its carbon uptake, or even begin to release carbon, that would exacerbate the climate forcing from fossil fuels: a positive feedback.
The ocean has a tendency to take up more carbon as the CO2 concentration in the air rises, because of Henry’s Law, which states that in equilibrium, more in the air means more dissolved in the water. Stratification of the waters in the ocean, due to warming at the surface for example, tends to oppose CO2 invasion, by slowing the rate of replenishing surface waters by deep waters which haven’t taken up fossil fuel CO2 yet.
… Le Quere et al. [2007] … find that the Southern Ocean has begun to release carbon since about 1990….
A decrease in ocean uptake is more clearly documented in the North Atlantic by Schuster and Watson [2007]. They show surface ocean CO2 measurements … rose by about 15 microatmospheres
…The warming at the end of the last ice age was prompted by changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun, but it was greatly amplified by the rising CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. The orbits pushed on ice sheets, which pushed on climate. The climate changes triggered a strong positive carbon cycle feedback which is, yes, still poorly understood.
Now industrial activity is pushing on atmospheric CO2 directly. The question is when and how strongly the carbon cycle will push back.

Note From:Avalone-King, Debbie J
… I’d like to prompt interested teachers to examine (online) some of the buoy’s collecting data on CO2 exchange between air and ocean. (pertinent web links can be found in attachment) [See also the] BUOY DATA WORKSHEET – for HS students that might provide them with an interesting classroom exercise on this topic. This is an activity I recently put together at a Teacher Insitute on CC and Oceans as an educational assignment. I think it’s pretty interesting.
Would love to hear feedback on the exercise and how it works in the classroom. I believe I shared a really neat carbon cycle classroom activity with this group a few months back, but if you did get it – feel free to inquire further.

2007 October 9. Scientist: Greenhouse Gas Levels Grave. By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. Excerpt: SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — Strong worldwide economic growth has accelerated the level of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere to a dangerous threshold scientists had not expected for another decade, according to a leading Australian climate change expert.
Scientist Tim Flannery told Australian Broadcasting Corp. that an upcoming report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will contain new data showing that the level of climate-changing gases in the atmosphere has already reached critical levels.
Flannery is not a member of the IPCC, but said he based his comments on a thorough review of the technical data included in the panel’s three working group reports published earlier this year. The IPCC is due to release its final report synthesizing the data in November.
”What the report establishes is that the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is already above the threshold that can potentially cause dangerous climate change,” Flannery told the broadcaster late Monday. ”We are already at great risk of dangerous climate change, that’s what these figures say. It’s not next year or next decade, it’s now.” …The new data could add urgency to the next round of U.N. climate change talks on the Indonesian island of Bali in December, which will aim to start negotiations on a replacement for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012….

2007 May 8. Sale of Carbon Credits Helping Land-Rich, but Cash-Poor, Tribes. By JIM ROBBINS, The New York Times. Excerpt: LAPWAI, Idaho – On the Nez Perce reservation here, land that was cleared in the 19th century for farming is being converted back to forest, in part to sell the trees’ ability to sequester carbon…. “These forests are a carbon crop,” Brian Kummett, a forester for the Nez Perce tribal forestry division, said as he surveyed a vast field studded with recently planted ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and larch saplings. “We can sell the rights from the time the forest is planted to the time it’s harvested, 80 or 120 years down the road.”…The Nez Perce are participating in an Indian tribe “carbon portfolio” being created by the National Carbon Offset Coalition in Butte, Mont., an organization supported largely by the Energy Department….An acre of pine forest captures and holds one to two metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which it uses for photosynthesis. Untilled cropland holds a third of a ton of carbon per acre, and rangeland holds up to a fifth of a ton. The sequestered carbon dioxide is measured by soil tests before and after the planting. The market for carbon sequestration in the United States is voluntary. As a result, the demand has been low compared with Europe, where emissions are now restricted by law. …Tribal carbon sales have had mixed results since the first such sale in the 1990s, when the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington sold rights to its land for 25 cents a metric ton. …Carbon dioxide credits now sell for about $4 a metric ton. Mandatory restrictions, experts say, could increase the price to $12 or higher. In Europe, the cost of a credit sold for sequestering carbon dioxide has reached $20, and even $30, a ton….The sale of carbon sequestration rights has enhanced land conservation. Plants on rangeland where carbon rights have been sold, for example, have to be kept healthy to assure that they hold carbon. That means that they have to be grazed by a specific number of cows in a certain way. Forests have to be managed sustainably….

2007 April 12. Hot Topic, Cool Science: The Greenhouse Effect and the Orbiting Carbon Observatory. Talk by Dr. Charles “Chip” E. Miller, Deputy Principal Investigator, Orbiting Carbon Observatory. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere by fossil fuel combustion and other human activities. The year 2005 saw atmospheric carbon dioxide climb to its highest level in the last 500,000 years – raising concerns about increased greenhouse forcing of Earth’s climate. NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory [OCO] mission, scheduled for launch in 2008 will address these concerns by collecting precise global measurements of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere and revolutionizing our understanding of the global carbon cycle. Come learn how the Orbiting Carbon Observatory will measure your carbon footprint.

2007 January 22. Scientists Analyze Corn To Map North American Carbon Dioxide. NASA Earth Observatory. Scientists have developed a novel way of mapping carbon dioxide levels in various parts of North America, by analyzing corn grown in those regions. Diana Hsueh at the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues collected corn from nearly 70 locations in the United States and Canada. They found that the Ohio Valley and California had the most fossil-fuel-emitted carbon dioxide, while the Colorado region had the least. …The scientists had expected carbon dioxide from California and other western coastal states to drift eastward, but they found that the Rocky Mountains appeared to provide a barrier….

13 December 2004. NASA RELEASE: 04-395. NASA Scientists Link Greenhouse Gases to Insects and Tree. Insect control and tree planting could greatly affect Earth’s greenhouse gases, according to NASA scientists. Greenhouse gasses are in Earth’s atmosphere and warm the planet. The scientists presented their findings today during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. Their research showed how human control of insects, tree planting and other factors could affect Earth’s greenhouse gases. “Planting trees on marginal agricultural lands could sequester carbon and offset at least one-fifth of the annual fossil fuel emission of carbon in the United States,” said Christopher Potter, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “Scientists also have found outbreaks of plant-eating insects may be linked with periodic droughts and heat waves in North America, which can trigger large seasonal losses of carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere.” Potter added.


Non-chronological resources

Carbon cycle activities and games:

Climate – 19 multimedia resources from Teachers’ Domain Earth and Space Science.
Movies for Investigation “Sampling Carbon Dioxide” showing:

Bubbling Gas Through Straw; Low Res (788K)-|- Hi Res (4.3M)Generating Pure CO2 Sample; Low Res (643K) -|- Hi Res (3.4M)Capturing Car Exhaust; Low ResHi Res (3.3M)(629K) -|- Climate Change