- WASHINGTON (AP) - The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
climbed to a record 381 parts per million last year, an increase sure to
spark further debate on global warming.
- The reading was up 2.6 parts per million,
according to preliminary calculations, David J. Hofmann of the Office of
Atmospheric Research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- Final calculations from reporting stations
around the world won't be available until later in the spring, Hofmann
said, but the preliminary numbers are usually quite close.
- Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse
gas. Those are chemicals that have been increasing in the atmosphere since
the Industrial Revolution, raising fears of altering the planet's climate
by trapping heat from the sun.
- In Geneva, Switzerland, meanwhile, the
World Meteorological Organization issued its own report for 2004, in which
Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said, "Global observations coordinated
by WMO show that levels of carbon dioxide, the most abundant greenhouse
gas in the atmosphere, continue to increase steadily and show no signs
of leveling off.''
- While the total of carbon dioxide in
the atmosphere goes up every year the amount of increase varies from year
to year, Hofmann said.
- The ocean absorbs carbon dioxide at a
fairly steady rate, he explained, but some years plants are more active
in taking it up as they grow while other years they use less. And years
when there are large forest fires can release increased amounts of the
gas into the air, he said.
- "The real question is how long will
the earth continue to adjust itself to take up the additional carbon dioxide,''
he said. "That's one of the major questions.''
- In addition to carbon dioxide, the 2004
data from WHO calculated that nitrous oxide, which has been rising steadily
since 1988, totaled 318.6 parts per billion. Methane has risen the most
dramatically over the past two centuries, with the total amount in 2004
at 1,783 parts per billion, but its growth has been slowing, WMO said.
- Hans Verolme, director of climate change
for the World Wildlife Fund in the United States, welcomed the report as
providing an authoritative measurement of the change.
- "Unfortunately it confirms the other
data that we've seen from NOAA and NASA and also it confirms with the trends
we've seen in emissions from countries like the United States that still
have not taken any real action to reduce carbon pollution,'' Verolme said.
- Leonard Barrie, chief of atmospheric
research at WMO, said: ``If you have that much more energy being trapped,
where does it go? That's the question everybody wants to know. Is it increasing
the average surface temperature? Is it increasing storm frequency?''
- In September, researchers at the Georgia
Institute of Technology reported that the number of more powerful hurricanes,
category 4 and 5, has increased over the last 20 years, a period when average
sea-surface temperature has risen. It's the warm water vapor from the oceans
that provides energy for these massive storms.
- According to NASA, 2005 had the highest
annual average surface temperature worldwide since instrument recordings
began in the late 1800s.
- Nevertheless, the question of dealing
with global climate change has proven a political stumbling block in recent
years with the Bush administration rejecting the Kyoto protocol, which
seeks to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.
- Scientists worry that overall warming
will melt glaciers and the polar ice caps, raising sea levels enough to
damage many low-lying islands and cities around the world. In addition,
a warmer climate could lead to changes in weather patterns, agriculture
and even allow some diseases to expand into new areas.
- Associated Press Writer Andrew G. Higgins
in Geneva contributed to this story.
- On the Net:
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:
- World Meteorological Organization: http://www.wmo.ch