CO2 levels are increasing 10 times faster than at any time in 50,000 years

© Katherine Stelling, Oregon State University

While there is no longer any doubt that we are living in an era where CO2 levels in the atmosphere have reached their peak, there is still a lot of information missing to assess the impact of this situation on the long term. To compensate for this lack, scientists decided to study a block of ice 50,000 years old.

Incomparable increases

Given that the Earth is more than 4 billion years old, it is inconceivable that the planet has never experienced a significant increase in its atmospheric carbon dioxide levels before today. In particular, there is evidence that the planet has already experienced periods when levels of this greenhouse gas increased beyond normal in the atmosphere. Various research is still being carried out in this area in order to have a better understanding of our current situation.

In this case, researchers at Oregon State University studied a block of ice about 50,000 years old to be able to compare excess atmospheric carbon dioxide then and today. Note that the samples were collected by drilling ice cores in Antarctica, to a depth of more than 3 kilometers. Such a process is explained by the fact that the ice which accumulated in Antarctica over hundreds of thousands of years contains atmospheric gases trapped in air bubbles, thus making it possible to establish a history of the climate pass.

While analysis of this ice block confirmed that there have indeed been periods of CO2 in the atmosphere increasing well beyond the normal range in the past, there is nothing comparable to what is happening now. Indeed, according to the results of the study published in the journal PNAS, the current increase in atmospheric CO2 levels is 10 times faster than at any time in the last 50,000 years. “ The rate of change of CO2 today is truly unprecedented said Kathleen Wendt, lead author of the study.

— kapichka / Shutterstock.com

The situation looks bad

In addition to this worrying finding, research has discovered that over the past 50,000 years, the flow of CO2 has increased by approximately 14 parts per million over 55 years, every 7,000 years. The situation has changed during the Anthropocene, in that during this period CO2 levels are increasing at similar levels, but this happens every five or six years. Such a difference is explained by the fact that current emissions are largely due to human activities, and not to natural phenomena, as was the case previously.

Regarding increases in atmospheric CO2 levels in the past, scientists have also found that they coincide with Heinrich events. This is a natural phenomenon caused by a collapse of the North American ice sheet. This phenomenon has the particularity of causing sudden global warming linked to a rapid release of CO2 from the Southern Ocean. Drawing a parallel with our current situation, scientists have determined that there may be a decline in the Southern Ocean’s capacity to absorb and contain CO2.

In addition, discover 10 of the countries that emit the most CO2.

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