Global CO2 to Reach Extremely Dangerous Peak Near 402 PPM for 2014, Methane Levels Ramp Ominously Higher

During 2014, human CO2 forcing continued its long march toward ever-more dangerous and climate-damaging levels. By the peak month of May, global CO2 had ranged well above the 400 parts per million threshold, catapulting Earth at raging velocity toward climate and atmospheric states not seen in at least 3 million years.

According to May readings from the Mauna Loa Observatory, the more volatile hourly measures jumped as high as 404 parts per million while daily and weekly averages tended to settle between 401.4 and 402.3 parts per million. Given these trends, overall CO2 levels for May of 2014 are likely to peak at near or just below the astronomical 402 ppm threshold.

Atmospheric CO2 Late May 2014

(Atmospheric CO2 levels measured by the Mauna Loa Observatory over the past two years. Peak values for 2012 hit near 397 ppm, peak for 2013 hit near 400 ppm, and peak for 2014 is likely to hit near 402 ppm. Image source: The Keeling Curve.)

CO2 levels near 400 parts per million are enough, according to our developed understanding of paleoclimates, to increase global temperatures by between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius, to melt Greenland, West Antarctica and a portion of East Antarctica, and to raise sea levels by 75 feet if sustained over a long term. According to recent glacial research, these very high levels, when combined with additional greenhouse gas forcing and concurrent ocean and atmospheric warming have already been enough to destabilize or push large portions of these major ice systems into irreversible collapse.

(A history of atmospheric carbon dioxide through early this year provided by CIRES and compared to the entire ice core record of the past 800,000 years. Video source: CIRES.)

36 Billion Tons of CO2 Emission per Year and Counting

Measured from peak to peak, the rate of atmospheric increase is likely near 2.5 to 3.0 parts per million per year over the two year period. Averages over the whole range of the past two years show increases on the order of 2.4 parts per million per year — a challenge to recent rates of increase near 2.2 parts per million a year since 2000.

Steadily ramping rates of atmospheric CO2 accumulation are driven by extreme global industrial, agricultural, and land-use emissions. According to the Global Carbon Project, 2013 saw total global CO2 emissions in the range of 36 billion metric tons. This emission was 2.1 percent higher than the 2012 level and about 60 percent higher than the 1990 level at around 22 billion metric tons of CO2. Such an extraordinary pace of emissions puts severe strain on both atmospheric carbon levels and on carbon sinks around the globe. The resulting risk of such a strong continued emission is that global sinks and stores may soon become sources (see methane monster below). An issue of amplifying feedbacks that grows ever more perilous with each passing year.

Rapidly Increasing CO2 Acting in Concert With Ramping Methane, other Greenhouse Gasses

Unfortunately, CO2 is not the only human emission forcing global temperatures rapidly higher. In addition, methane, nitrous oxide, and numerous other greenhouse gasses also make their way into the atmosphere each year through industrial sources. If we combine all these other greenhouse gasses, the total CO2 equivalent carbon emission is now at around 50 billion metric tons each year. A veritable mountain of greenhouse gasses dumped at a pace more than 150 times that of volcanic emissions each and every year.

Overall, the total greenhouse gas forcing from all these sources is now likely in the range of 481 parts per million of CO2 equivalent. This immense heat forcing, were it to remain in the atmosphere long-term, is enough to raise global temperatures by 3-4 C and to melt enough ice to raise sea levels by at least 120 feet. It is also enough, with only two more years of current emissions, to likely lock in an inevitable, irreversible and extraordinarily disruptive increase of 2 C in global temperatures for this century alone.

First Glimpses of the Methane Monster

The most potent and troubling of these additional greenhouse gasses is methane. Over the course of 20 years, methane is about 80 times as powerful a heat trapping gas as CO2 by volume. And though atmospheric methane levels are far less than comparable CO2 levels (at around 1.8 parts per million, or 1/3 the total atmospheric heat forcing of CO2), there is cause for serious concern.

For not only is the industrial emission of methane increasing, primarily through the use of very damaging hydraulic fracturing technologies (fracking), the global emission of methane from the Earth System also appears to be ramping higher. Over recent years, rapidly thawing permafrost and warming oceans both around the world and, particularly, in the Arctic show signs of venting an increasing volume of methane into the atmosphere from terrestrial sources. Though annual official tracking of total Arctic methane emissions at this point is practically non-existent, recent research allows for rational estimation.

Taking into account known emissions from permafrost and the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, and adding in expected emissions from the rest of the thawing Arctic, methane emissions for the entire region are likely around 40 teragrams per year, or about 7% of the global total. This emission is equivalent to that of a major industrial nation and initial indications are that it is growing.

Mauna Loa Methane 2007 to 2014

(Atmospheric methane increase since 2007 as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Note the more rapid pace of increase from 2013 through the first quarter of 2014. Image source: NOAA/ESRL.)

The result of combined increases in the human methane emission and in the Earth System emission has been enough to continue to push global levels higher with Mauna Loa readings breaching the 1840 part per billion average by early 2014. What is even more troubling is that the Earth System methane store, composed of both permafrost methane and methane hydrate at the bottom of the world ocean system, is immense.

In total, more than 3,000 gigatons of carbon in the form of methane may be at risk to eventually hit the atmosphere as the Earth continues to warm under the current human forcing. A very large store that could easily multiply the current rate of Earth System methane release many times over. One that represents a clear and present danger for a potentially very powerful amplifying heat feedback to an equally extraordinary initial human forcing.

Links:

The Keeling Curve

NOAA/ESRL

What Does a World at 400 PPM CO2 Look Like Long-term?

Grim News From NASA: West Antarctica’s Entire Flank is Collapsing Toward the Southern Ocean

Global Carbon Budget 2013

A Faustian Bargain on the Short Road to Hell: Living in a World at 480 CO2e

Far Worse Than Being Beaten With a Hockey Stick: Michael Mann and Our Terrifying Greenhouse Gas Overburden

Beneath the Cracking, Melting Ice, Arctic Methane Monster Continues its Ominous Rumblings

CIRES

 

 

 

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34 Comments

  1. Gerald Spezio

     /  May 28, 2014

    CARVE = carbon in Arctic reservoirs vulnerability experiment.

    from the CARVE WEBSITE; It includes an L-band radiometer/radar and a nadir-viewing spectrometer to deliver the first simultaneous measurements of surface parameters that control gas emissions (i.e., soil moisture, freeze/thaw state, surface temperature) and total atmospheric columns of carbon dioxide, methane, and carbon monoxide. The aircraft payload also includes a gas analyzer that links greenhouse gas measurements directly to World Meteorological Organization standards. Deployments will occur during the spring, summer and early fall when Arctic carbon fluxes are large and change rapidly.

    Reply
  2. We speak (half heartedly) of reducing emissions (when we actually need to eliminate and then reverse them), all the while our actions (collectively) increase them year on year.

    There is only one ending to this, I’m virtually certain of that much. It isn’t a happy one.

    Reply
    • The impacts of climate change ramp up to a scale that could well be comparable to a global war on humankind. At that point, we see how innovative and adaptive we really are.

      Reply
      • I think we will literally see a global war (at least by the standards of the last two “world” wars) in all this process anyway. It isn’t us against the climate – it’s very much us against each other – this thing has not changed – and likely will not.

      • If it’s us against each other, we all lose. If it’s us against the monster we’ve set loose, we have a shot at winning.

      • The trouble is, it’s been us against each other for our entire history. Expecting us to pass that evolutionary hurdle simultaneously to dealing with increasingly crippling resource scarcity and significant climate change seems… well, a trifle optimistic.

        That we do need to pass that hurdle to ultimately prosper, I think is beyond dispute – I just don’t see it happening yet. We haven’t learned yet.

      • Maybe… We haven’t nuked each other to smithereens yet. And prevention of the use of terrible weapons was a hithertofore beyond human feat. It appears we are capable of cooperation in the face of great enough threats. I’ll keep pushing for it as it presents far better outcomes than the alternative.

      • It’s worth pushing for, but a lifetime of being outside the group/tribe is my basis for drawing the conclusions I do.

    • pintada

       /  May 28, 2014

      “… all the while our actions (collectively) increase them year on year.”

      Exactly. And that goes to my earlier point.

      Simply put, Guy is no different than any of the rest of us, except that he has been advocating for the elimination of emissions for a long time. You who are without sin, may cast the first stone. I have no confidence that I am so pure as to have that privilege.

      Re: air travel, i stand more-or-less corrected. Again, the point was that his personal contribution to our problems (like mine or yours) compared to the total problem is minuscule.

      I can make (in my opinion) a legitimate criticism of Guy – his last book was not very well written.

      Reply
      • I think it’s fair to say that, to one degree or another, we are all captive consumers. Individuals do their best to act, but unless you have wide-ranging and enforced policy, everyone swims against a cultural and economic tide.

      • The best analogy I’ve seen for individual contributions is someone who said that a rain drop does not cause the flood – and yet in a way they all do.

        Part of my preparations for post collapse operation necessarily entail being able to operate in a post fossil fuel environment and hence being able to operate without fossil energy, but I’m sure I still have a footprint to consider in terms of the materials and tools and so on that I’ve gathered.

  3. Gerald Spezio

     /  May 28, 2014

    Yessir, they are surely silent; but we can be sure that they plenty of critical data from their spring excursion.
    We must not forget that they observed methane plumes that were 150 km in diameter in 2013.
    Those observed plumes did not disappear.
    The real question is – how large are they now?

    Reply
    • Given the significant Arctic overburden we saw this winter, it seems that very large sections of the Arctic are venting the gas. Annual rate of increase at 10 ppb a year is rather rapid considering the already very high methane overburden exposure to the hydroxyl sink.

      Reply
    • Bassman

       /  May 28, 2014

      I’m interested in seeing how much an El Niño induced warming for 8-14 months will influence methane levels. I wouldn’t expect any effect to be noticeable until 2015.

      Reply
  4. Mark from New England

     /  May 28, 2014

    So much for getting emissions back to 1990 levels or whatever the target of the now irrelevant Kyoto protocol was!

    One minor spelling error in this sentence: “For not only is the industrial emission of methane increasing, primarily through the use of very damaging hydrolic fracturing technologies (fracking), the global emission of methane from the Earth System also appears to be ramping higher.” Hydrolic should be ‘hydraulic’.

    So given the seasonal zig-zag of CO2 levels, can we expect this fall / winter to perhaps be the last when CO2 levels drop below 400 ppm for a few months, only to rise to perhaps 405 ppm at spring peak in 2015?

    Reply
    • Thanks for the catch! On it!

      The typical range from peak to trough is around 7 ppm. So we would expect a bottom near 395 this year, 397 next and approaching 400 ppm during winter of 2016-17.

      This year, we’ll probably have three months at or above 400 ppm. Next year, we might get close to 400 ppm average annually.

      Reply
  5. Colorado Bob

     /  May 28, 2014

    Antarctic Ice Sheet unstable at end of last ice age, new study finds

    “During that time, the sea level on a global basis rose about 50 feet in just 350 years – or about 20 times faster than sea level rise over the last century,” noted Clark, a professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “We don’t yet know what triggered these eight episodes or pulses, but it appears that once the melting of the ice sheet began it was amplified by physical processes.”
    The researchers suspect that a feedback mechanism may have accelerated the melting, possibly by changing ocean circulation that brought warmer water to the Antarctic subsurface, according to co-author Axel Timmermann, a climate researcher at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
    “This positive feedback is a perfect recipe for rapid sea level rise,” Timmermann said.
    Some 9,000 years ago, the episodic pulses of melting stopped, the researchers say.

    Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2014-05-antarctic-ice-sheet-unstable-age.html#jCp

    Reply
    • 14.2 feet per century…

      Episodic pulses– read this as glacial outburst floods.

      Amazing implications in this study.

      Reply
    • I’m looking at areas near the shores of Great Slave Lake at 23 C now.

      Reply
      • How about highs running up to 20C at Inuvik. Normal highs are 12C.

        What I’m really noticing on these (such as Norman Wells, Hay River, Inuvik) is the Lows. They are consistently above the normal lows, pushing any melt / drying quicker.

      • Certainly an area to watch this year.

    • mikkel

       /  May 29, 2014

      It’s amazing how they use facts in order to twist the narrative
      http://dailycaller.com/2014/05/28/mankind-not-causing-west-antarctic-glaciers-to-collapse/

      Reply
      • You have got to be kidding me.

      • I mean, did they even read the paper?

        MSM reading compression score = nil.

      • mikkel

         /  May 29, 2014

        I HIGHLY doubt it is reading comprehension failure. I think there are people that read papers in order to pick out facts that cause obfuscation and fit into the “climate has always changed” meme. They will cherry pick statements and quote it to make it sound like there is no big deal, even when those statements are followed up by “so therefore we should be alarmed” conclusions.

        This is one reason why scientists’ insistence on cautious and pinpoint language is so detrimental.

      • Intentional ignorance is worse than reading comprehension failure. Some people don’t have luxury of choosing stupidity.

      • To extend their logic….to point out it’s stupidity.

        Climate has changed before humans, thus humans can not change the climate.

        - therefore -

        Forest fire have occurred before humans, thus humans can not cause forest fires.

      • Exactly. Logical fallacy du jour.

  6. Gerald Spezio

     /  May 28, 2014

    “In total, more than 3,000 gigatons of carbon in the form of methane may be at risk to eventually hit the atmosphere as the Earth continues to warm under the current human forcing.”

    It would only take 3 gigatons ( a paltry one-thousandth) of the existing stock of methane to knock humanity senseless.

    It is not-at-all unreasonable to predict that there is a high probability that from one to three gigatons could be released by October this year.

    In 2013 Carve field researcher, Charles Miller, observed methane plumes that were slightly less than100 miles in diameter.

    Reply
    • Let’s hope not. As of yet, we don’t see a signal for that kind of release size. Still a low potential, thankfully.

      Reply
  7. Check out the huge blob forming over Saskatchewan.

    http://weather.gc.ca/data/satellite/goes_nam_1070_100.jpg

    If you look at the animation you can see it build up

    http://weather.gc.ca/satellite/animateweb_e.html?imagetype=satellite&imagename=goes_nam_1070_m_………………jpg&nbimages=1&clf=1

    Reply
    • HIgh degree of instability between that hot zone, the Arctic to the north and Hudson Bay. Looks like a major storm system rolled through late last night and into this morning. Redevelopment apparent already. Could have a second hit further east.

      Reply

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