The Earth has sent us another warning that the climate crisis is here and we’d best do something about it. The highest CO2 level on record happened on April 3, the shocking observation reached 421.21 ppm. On April 2, the concentration was 416.97 ppm.
Why this matters
Mauna Loa Observatory is located on the Big Island of Hawaii and it has been in operation since 1950, the oldest place measuring CO2 concentrations still in action. It’s far from the continental landmass and big cities, and nearly 3,400 m above sea level. This means almost nothing contaminates the data, apart from the volcano spurious data which scientists can easily eliminate.
If this observatory planted in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far from any perturbance, has detected the highest amount of CO2 levels without any interference from its volcano, and after a ‘decline’ of human activity which happened in 2020 — this means we are in trouble.
It’s important to note that one or two extreme values don’t necessarily mean much on their own. There are always exceptions. But these large CO2 values are not exceptions — quite the contrary: they are part of a well-observed phenomenon of CO2 rising in the atmosphere. Don’t believe me? Have a look at this chart:
The graph shows the increase in carbon dioxide year by year, the recent plot shows how this is even more significant compared to the ’70s. Inside the increasing trend, you see annual oscillations, they are the result of a natural response in the climate. Leaves fall during Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, so the vegetation is less successful in retaining the CO2 in the air.
Carbon dioxide is what’s called a greenhouse gas: it ‘stores’ energy that then heats up the air.
If the carbon dioxide increases, the temperature of the atmosphere (and subsequently, the entire planet’s surface) increases. The graph below shows the correlation in the trend, how temperature and concentrations are tightly coupled. But that is a simplistic point of view, the Earth is a complex system, so add temperature response with the other greenhouse gases, other interactions, and feedbacks happening at the same time.