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Atmospheric CO2 Levels reach Historic Levels, Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii warns about Trouble in the Air

The headline from a year's worth of test results on CO2 levels from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii states that the atmospheric CO2 levels may never fall below 400 ppm ever again

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Atmospheric CO2 Levels
Scripps Research Institute numbers show carbon levels at record highs. VOA
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  • The headline from a year’s worth of test results on CO2 levels from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii states that the atmospheric CO2 levels may never fall below 400 ppm
  • the more carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere, the more heat will be trapped and the warmer the planet will become
  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says we have to cap the amount of carbon in the atmosphere at 450 ppm

Oct 01, 2016: The atmospheric CO2 levels may never fall below 400 parts per million (ppm) ever again.

That’s the headline from a year’s worth of test results on CO2 levels from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii.

In a study released this month, lead author professor Richard Betts of the University of Exeter blames the cyclical Pacific Ocean warming phenomenon known as El Nino in part for the grim record. In his research, published in Nature Climate Change, Betts says El Nino “warms and dries tropical ecosystems, reducing their uptake of carbon, and exacerbating forest fires.”

Betts and his colleagues were able to predict this landmark. “I was looking at the numbers this morning,” NASA scientist Ben Poulter told VOA. “It is remarkable that they were able to make these predictions in 2015.”

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Mauna Loa Solar Observatory. Wikimedia
Mauna Loa Solar Observatory. Wikimedia

Carbon dioxide is odorless and tasteless, and it makes up less than 1 percent of our atmosphere. But this small amount of CO2 has a big impact on the planet. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, without the warming of the planet that carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases provide, Earth’s average temperature would fall below freezing.

But that’s where the old saying about too much of a good thing comes into play, because the more carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere, the more heat will be trapped and the warmer the planet will become.

The planet didn’t reach the 400 ppm mark by itself. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels were at 280 ppm. When tests at Mauna Loa began, the level was at 315 ppm. Scientists say human contributions have played a large part in pushing the level over 400 ppm.

All of the carbon people are pumping into the atmosphere is having an impact on the planet. But what exactly is that impact? That’s been the challenge facing climate scientists for decades.

At the very least, according to NOAA, warming can cause “sea level rise, shifting precipitation patterns, expansion of areas affected by drought, increasing numbers of severe heat waves, and more intense precipitation events.”

Changes underway

Already, some places are getting wetter, and some places are getting drier. The good news is that humans are really adaptable. The bad news is that a host of other creatures aren’t.

And it gets worse: A lot of that excess carbon gets absorbed by the world’s oceans, making the water more acidic. NOAA says this interferes with such things as “the ability of marine plants and animals to build their shells,” and that ultimately threatens “a reorganization of the entire marine food chain, which could lead to a mass extinction event.”

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But will all this happen? That’s the the part that concerns climate scientists the most. Hitting 400 ppm means we’re in uncharted territory. The last time atmospheric CO2 levels were this high is unclear, but a number of competing studies put the date at millions of years ago. We may not know whether an extinction event lies ahead, but we can count on weather events like blizzards and droughts becoming more extreme, and more common.

Poulter says the 400 ppm level “tells us that society moving way too fast toward dangerous CO2 concentration in the atmosphere.” So what can we do to fix it?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says we have to cap the amount of carbon in the atmosphere at 450 ppm. That keeps us below an average global temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, which was the goal set at a 2010 U.N. conference on climate change.

But to do that, the world may need to phase out use of dirty fuel like coal and cut back on oil. And according to the White House, “global emissions would have to decline by about 60 percent by 2050 [and] industrialized countries’ greenhouse gas emissions would have to decline by about 80 percent by 2050.”

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Poulter says, “We’re only about 15 to 20 years away from reaching the 450 ppm target,” which means efforts to cut carbon emissions have to start now. Forty-one nations — including the world’s biggest polluters, the United States, China and those in the European Union — have agreed to reduce their carbon output significantly by 2020.

Studies like the one led by Betts can quickly and effectively tell us if the things we are doing to combat climate change are working. “As countries start to implement reduction plans,” Poulter says, “we can monitor the effects those reductions are having.” (VOA)

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  • Antara

    An extremely shocking news!

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Maharashtra’s climate action plan yielded disappointments

Broadly speaking, the plan discusses the impact of climate change on six sectors -- agriculture, water resources, health, forests and biodiversity, livelihoods, and energy and infrastructure.

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Climate action plans were not up to the mark. Pixabay
Climate action plans were not up to the mark. Pixabay
  • The Maharashtra climate action plan yields huge disappointments as it failed to recognize crucial issues in its implementation.
  • The issues like air pollution and damage through thunderstorms and lightening were ignored.
  • The plan only focused on six major factors.

Mumbai, Jan 1: Eight years after the Centre’s direction to formulate a state action plan on climate change, and seven years after awarding the contract for a comprehensive vulnerability assessment study, the Maharashtra cabinet has finally adopted a plan on climate change.

Titled ‘Assessing Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Strategies for Maharashtra: Maharashtra State Action Plan on Climate Change, and prepared by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), the action plan assesses vulnerability of the state to changing climate and outlines broad and ambitious strategies for building a climate-resilient future.

Rice Farm, Farming, Agriculture, Farm
Action plan focuses on 6 major factors, including agriculture. Pixabay

The action plan, built on high resolution modelling for which TERI entered into a partnership with the UK Met Office, projects changes in temperature and rainfall across the state at a resolution of about 25 km by 25 km for time periods 2030s, 2050s and 2070s — with the average climate during 1970-2000 as the model’s baseline.

An important component of the action plan is the Macro Level Vulnerability Index based on 19 indicators, which has identified the most vulnerable districts in Maharashtra: Nandurbar is the most climate change-vulnerable district, followed by Dhule and Buldhana. Satara is regarded as the least vulnerable district. Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg are also considered less vulnerable to changes in the climate. The state government has announced setting up a panel of experts to oversee the implementation of the report.

India, Mumbai, Bombay, Tourism
Issues related to thunderstorm and lightening were not taken into consideration. Pixabay

But, meteorologists and environment experts aren’t satisfied with the action plan. “The state has taken considerable time to come up with its adaptation plan on climate change. But the plan misses out on some crucial weather events, such as thunderstorm and lightning, that are linked to climatic changes. Air pollution, an important environment factor, is also missing from the plan,” said Akshay Deoras, Nagpur-based meteorologist.

Ashok Jaswal, former scientist with the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Pune, stresses that an effective state action plan should include all direct and indirect climatic parameters.

“Air pollutants are aerosols and have their own different properties. Some are salt-based, whereas others are carbon-based, or dust, or smoke. Some reflect solar radiation, whereas others trap heat,” he said. “These aerosols influence cloud formation, rainfall and the overall climate, and must be a part of the state action plan on climate change.”

Broadly speaking, the plan discusses the impact of climate change on six sectors — agriculture, water resources, health, forests and biodiversity, livelihoods, and energy and infrastructure. It also makes projections for rainfall and temperature in the state; and assesses the future sea level rise. A section in the plan is dedicated to extreme rainfall, flooding and adaptation in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The document shows that temperature and rainfall are projected to increase all over the state with some regional variations. Amravati division (Vidarbha region) and Aurangabad division (Marathwada region) are going to experience greater rise in annual mean temperatures than other parts of the state.

The projected increase in annual mean temperature for Amravati is expected to be 1.44-1.64 degree C, 2.2-2.35 degree C, and 3.06-3.46 degree C in 2030s, 2050s and 2070s, respectively. For the same time periods, the projected annual mean temperature increase for Aurangabad division is 1.44-1.56 degree C, 2.15-2.3 degree C, and 3.14-3.38 degree C, respectively. An increase in temperature is likely to lead to a decrease in yields for some crops, such as rice, sorghum and cotton.

Minimum temperature is also projected to increase, particularly in the divisions of Konkan, Pune and Nashik, which could have an adverse impact on crops sensitive to high night temperatures in the reproductive phase, such as grain growth in rice or tuberisation in potatoes, warns the state action plan.

The government's efforts came up short. Pixabay
The government’s efforts came up short. Pixabay

The action plan notes that an increase in temperature will be conducive to malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in eastern and coastal (Thane and Raigad regions) Maharashtra in 2030s. By the 2050s, a faster rate of parasite development will take place in Aurangabad, Jalna and Nashik districts.

Since a warmer atmosphere has a higher capacity to hold water vapour, it will lead to intense rainfall events with longer dry or low rainfall spells in between. Extreme rainfall is projected to increase in all regions of the state with greater increases in the northern parts of the state.

Meanwhile, parts of south-central Maharashtra are projected to experience more dry days in the 2030s as compared to the baseline. These districts of Marathwada are already prone to recurring droughts and infamous for farmers’ suicides.

“The findings… clearly describe the adverse impacts of climate change on all regions of the state. The report shows the worrying trend of an increase in extreme weather events and heavy precipitation days,” said Parineeta Dandekar, associate co-ordinator of the South Asian Network on Dams, Rivers and People.

“Increased rainfall will lead to heavy flooding, which will have a direct bearing on the state’s water infrastructure. But, the action plan fails to elaborate upon ways to manage the water infrastructure in times of climate change.”

Lightning is listed as a state-specific disaster in Maharashtra, but the state action plan makes no mention of lightning, which is linked to climatic changes. “Rising temperature means more evaporation and high moisture content in the atmosphere, which leads to more thunderstorm activity and an increased incidence of lightning,” explained Jaswal.

A recent study, ‘Distribution of Lightning Casualities over Maharashtra’, has examined lightning deaths in the state between 1979 and 2011 and found 2,363 casualties from 455 lighting events. On an average 72 casualties per year have been reported with significant increasing trend.

“It is shocking that in spite of so many lives being lost each year due to lightning, the state action plan does not even mention the terms thunderstorm and lightning. Unless the plan acknowledges these weather events, how will the state government manage such disasters?” questioned Deoras.

The action plan does take note of the adverse impacts of hailstorm on horticulture crops in the state. For instance, it notes that hailstorms destroyed the grape crop in 2008-09. In 2010, almost 15 percent of the orange crop was destroyed due to rising heat and untimely hailstorm. But it fails to provide pointed information on ways to minimise impact on crops.

The action plan also makes no mention of air pollution. “Not including air pollution in the state climate action plan is a major drawback and the same must be rectified at the earliest,” said Jaswal.

Dandekar stresses on the need for translating action points into swift action. “The recommendations should not remain on paper, but must be included in the various state policies for immediate implementation,” she said. Deoras recommends setting up of a committee to reframe the action plan, by including the above-mentioned points, and then working towards the plan’s implementation by providing specific directions. IANS