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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
  • 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)

  • Antara

    An extremely shocking news!

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Exposure to Air Pollution May Trigger Alzheimer’s in Aged Women, Reveals Research

"Our hope is that by better understanding the underlying brain changes caused by air pollution, researchers will be able to develop interventions to help people with or at risk for cognitive decline," Petkus added

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Alzheimer's
A lady suffering from Alzheimer's. Flickr

Women in their 70s and 80s who were exposed to higher levels of air pollution experienced greater declines in memory and more Alzheimer’s-like brain atrophy than their counterparts who breathed cleaner air, new research has revealed.

“This is the first study to really show, in a statistical model, that air pollution was associated with changes in people’s brains and that those changes were then connected with declines in-memory performance,” said study researcher Andrew Petkus, the Assistant Professor University of South California in the US.

Previous research has suggested that fine particle pollution exposure increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.

What scientists haven’t known is whether PM2.5 alters brain structure and accelerates memory decline.

For the study, published in the journal Brain, researchers used data from 998 women, aged 73 to 87, who had up to two brain scans five years apart as part of the landmark Women’s Health Initiative launched in 1993 by the US National Institutes of Health and enrolled more than 160,000 women to address questions about heart disease, cancer, and osteoporosis.

"The question for us now is not how to eliminate cholesterol from the brain, but about how to control cholesterol's role in Alzheimer's disease through the regulation of its interaction with amyloid-beta," Vendruscolo said.
In Alzheimer’s disease, patients start losing memory. Pixabay

Those brain scans were scored on the basis of their similarity to Alzheimer’s disease patterns by a machine learning tool that had been “trained” via brain scans of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers also gathered information about where the 998 women lived, as well as environmental data from those locations to estimate their exposure to fine particle pollution.

When all that information was combined, researchers could see the association between higher pollution exposure, brain changes and memory problems — even after adjusting to taking into account differences in income, education, race, geographic region, cigarette smoking, and other factors.

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“This study provides another piece of the Alzheimer’s disease puzzle by identifying some of the brain changes linking air pollution and memory decline. Each research study gets us one step closer to solving the Alzheimer’s disease epidemic,” Petkus said.

“Our hope is that by better understanding the underlying brain changes caused by air pollution, researchers will be able to develop interventions to help people with or at risk for cognitive decline,” Petkus added. (IANS)