- Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are now similar to where they were around 4.3 million years ago.
- Methane is a powerful, heat-trapping greenhouse gas that’s the second-biggest contributor to human-caused global warming.
- “Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace.”
The level of methane in Earth’s atmosphere emerged to a record high for the second year in a row, scientists said Thursday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the annual increase in atmospheric methane during 2021 was 17 parts per billion, the largest measurements since began in 1983.
Methane is a powerful, heat-trapping greenhouse gas that’s the second-biggest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide.
Levels of carbon dioxide also increased at historically high rates, NOAA said. The global surface average for carbon dioxide during 2021 was 414.7 parts per million (ppm), which is an increase of 2.66 ppm over the 2020 average.
This marks the 10th consecutive year that carbon dioxide increased by more than 2 parts per million.
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“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement. “The evidence is consistent, alarming and undeniable.”
The burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas releases greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which has caused the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere to rise to levels that cannot be explained by natural causes, scientists say.
Carbon dioxide is called a greenhouse gas because of its ability to trap solar radiation and keep it confined to the atmosphere.
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It is invisible, odorless and colorless yet is responsible for 63% of the warming attributable to all greenhouse gases, according to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Colorado.
Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are similar to where they were during the mid-Pliocene epoch, about 4.3 million years ago, NOAA said.
During that time period, sea level was about 75 feet higher than today, the average temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in pre-industrial times, and studies indicate large forests occupied areas of the Arctic that are now tundra.
About 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere last year by human activity; roughly 640 million tons of methane were emitted during the same period, NOAA said. Methane lasts in our atmosphere for about nine years; some of the carbon dioxide emitted today will warm the planet for thousands of years.
“The effect of carbon dioxide emissions is cumulative,” said Pieter Tans, senior scientist with the Global Monitoring Laboratory. “About 40% of the Ford Model T emissions since 1911 are still in the air today. We’re halfway to doubling the abundance of carbon dioxide that was in the atmosphere at the start of the Industrial Revolution.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism