Extreme Temperature Diary- Sunday June 7th, 2019/ Spiking The Keeling Curve…Fossil Fuel Emissions Push Greenhouse Gas Indicators to Record High in May

Sunday June 7th… Dear Diary. The main purpose of this ongoing blog will be to track United States extreme or record temperatures related to climate change. Any reports I see of ETs will be listed below the main topic of the day. I’ll refer to extreme or record temperatures as ETs (not extraterrestrials).😉

Spiking The Keeling Curve…Fossil Fuel Emissions Push Greenhouse Gas Indicators to Record High in May

Dear Diary. Yesterday for our main subject we noted that Earth had its hottest May on record. Most of my readers are aware of the Keeling Curve made up of CO2 measurements taken from Mona Loa Hawaii. Usually these measurements spike in May and move down as Northern Hemisphere flora takes in CO2 and emits oxygen. Readings start to move up again once fall sets in when leaves die since most flora becomes dormant for the cold season. It comes as no surprise that CO2 readings reached a record high in May in conjunction with overall average record planetary heat. For more details on this here is some of an Inside Climate News piece:


Fossil Fuel Emissions Push Greenhouse Gas Indicators to Record High in May

New measurements show that not even the pandemic can flatten the Keeling Curve.

By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News

Jun 5, 2020

Mauna Loa Observatory. Credit: NOAA
At Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, data on CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere has been amassed and displayed as the Keeling Curve, named for climate scientist Charles David Keeling, who began measurements there in 1958. Credit: NOAA

As graphs go, the Keeling Curve is simple, but it clearly illustrates the planet’s vexing global warming challenge. In a decades-long upward zigzag it charts the unrelenting increase of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

An annual update of the curve done this week shows that CO2 once again spiked to a record high during the past year. The short-term throttling of emissions during the coronavirus pandemic didn’t even show up as a blip, scientists said, adding that the readings are important because they help explain that fossil fuel pollution is changing the climate dangerously, and faster than expected

The CO2 concentration during May averaged 417.2 parts per million, the highest monthly total ever recorded. It increased at about the same rate as throughout the 2010s, researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego said after analyzing thousands of samples taken over the past 12 months.

The Keeling Curve is named for climate scientist Charles David Keeling, who in 1958 started measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, when CO2 was at 313 parts per million. 

“This is a measure of humanity overwhelming nature,” said Ralph Keeling, who took over the measurements in 2005 after his father died. He now runs the Scripps Oceanography CO2 program. The graph’s trajectory shows that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will double from the pre-industrial level in 60-80 years, he said. That would warm the planet between 2.7 degrees and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit above the pre-industrial average.

“It’s going to be really hard to prevent that from happening, and it’s not going to come about without a major investment in new energy,” Keeling said.

When the Keeling Curve measurements started, scientists already suspected that greenhouse gases would heat the atmosphere, but data was sparse. Now the curve shows that, since humans started burning fossil fuels, atmospheric CO2 has increased 33 percent (138 ppm), to the highest concentration since at least the Pliocene era, 2.6 million years ago, when sea levels were 30 to 60 feet higher than today.

Other Gases Contribute to a Worrisome Milestone

Within the steep rise of the Keeling Curve is a smaller zigzag pattern that shows seasonal cycles of plant growth and decay. The CO2 level is highest each year in the late spring of the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the land and plants are. So the annual measurements are finalized and announced in early June each year. 

This year’s increase again shows that the clock is ticking faster in the race to limit global warming to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the target of the Paris climate agreement, said Pieter Tans, who leads a carbon cycle research group at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. 

“In the 1990s, the CO2 concentration was increasing at 1.6 ppm each year. In the 2000s, it was 2 ppm per year, and the rate ticked up again in the current decade, to 2.4 ppm per year,” Tans said. “CO2 is the main thing causing global warming. It’s two-thirds of all climate forcing.”

Climate forcing describes the heating power of all greenhouse gases combined, not just CO2. Tans works on NOAA’s Annual Greenhouse Gas Index, which tracks the increase of that power over time, using measurements from the Mauna Loa lab and other sites in the worldwide monitoring network. 

“We follow how much infrared radiation greenhouse gases absorb every year and how much that heats the surface of the Earth, measured in watts per square meter,” Tans said.

Record Levels of Atmospheric CO2

Along with CO2, methane and nitrous oxide, the index also measures several less abundant but super-potent greenhouse gases. It shows that the heating power of all greenhouse gases combined is 45 percent higher than in 1990, a year chosen partly because the 1997 Kyoto Protocol set it as a baseline for international climate calculations. In the index released last week, combined greenhouse gases for the first time trapped the same amount of heat as an atmosphere with carbon dioxide at 500 ppm. 

Using a slightly different formula, Tans compared the heating effect of all the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere today with Earth’s pre-industrial climate, before 1800. The increase is “equal to adding 3.22 watts of heating power over every square meter of the Earth,” he said. 

“If that heat were focused over Greenland, it would melt 5.2 percent of the ice sheet and raise global sea level 15 inches in just one year,” he said. “The heat retention caused by greenhouse gases in 2019 equals the electrical output of 1.64 million large power plants. That’s staggering.” 

Spread out over the entire planet, the warming is rapidly melting ice sheets and glaciers, thawing permafrost, raising sea level, intensifying storms and shifting weather patterns. Tans said that more global warming will lead to even more such climate extremes in the future. 

Steve Montzka, who coordinates the analysis of the global sampling at NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Boulder, focuses on the warming effect of 40 lesser-known gases that also affect the climate, as well as the ozone layer. Some of them have 10,000 times the heat-trapping power of CO2, so it’s important to track them because even a small increase can compound global warming. The warming influence of the sum of these related gases continues to increase, he said.

Flattening the Curve

But carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas causing most of the warming, and the accelerating rise of the Keeling Curve shows its impacts on the climate continuing to increase.

“The Keeling Curve is the most important graph for humankind because that’s where we show our success, or so far, our failure to address climate change,” said Dave Reay, who teaches carbon management at the University of Edinburgh and snagged the @KeelingCurve handle on Twitter in 2010. 

He says he decided to use that name because, as a climate educator, he knows that the curve represents vital climate information that can help people understand what’s at stake with global warming. The official Scripps account is @Keeling_Curve.

“It’s the big curve for humanity,” he said. “If we can stabilize CO2 below 500 parts per million, we can meet the goal of staying below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) warming. The sooner we stabilize the better,” he noted, because recent research suggests the climate is more sensitive than estimated by major global climate assessments. 

Reay said that incoming students at the university “have a degree of anger about the fact that we’ve known about the risks of rising emissions for a long time without doing anything about it.”

But, he added, they also see opportunities in the transformation to a zero-carbon, sustainable economy, as well as in studying ways to make communities more resilient to the impacts of global warming.

“Damage limitation, mitigation, resilience, a lot of them get a huge passion for that,” he said. “There are a lot of jobs in this, too.”

So, while the economic slowdown brought by the pandemic hasn’t significantly lowered carbon dioxide concentrations, the recovery could. Reay noted that scientists around the world see that as a chance to take a significant step toward building a carbon-neutral economy.

Read more here:


Here is more climate and weather news from Sunday:

(As usual, this will be a fluid post in which more information gets added during the day as it crosses my radar, crediting all who have put it on-line. Items will be archived on this site for posterity. In most instances click on the pictures of each tweet to see each article. The most noteworthy items will be listed first.)


Now here are some of today’s articles and notes on the horrid COVID-19 pandemic:

(As usual, the most noteworthy items will be listed first.)

(If you like these posts and my work please contribute via the PayPal widget, which has recently been added to this site. Thanks in advance for any support.) 

Guy Walton “The Climate Guy”

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