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IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme

Hitting new highs and lows and raised concerns

 The US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides up to date data on the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. The NOAA data set shows a steadily increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. In June 2016 NOAA reported that in May 2016 they recorded the biggest year-over-year jump in atmospheric levels of CO2 record — 3.76 parts per million. This took May 2016 to the highest monthly levels of CO2 in the air ever measured — 407.7 ppm. Projecting forward this trends look like we will hit 410ppm by 2020.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center of the USA reported that May 2016 saw Arctic sea ice extent drop about 600,000 square km (232,000 square miles). This was the lowest artic ice sea ice extent in the 38-years that satellite recording of the sea ice has been undertaken.

It seems that the Arctic has been setting records for warmth. In May, key portions of the Arctic Ocean were 4-5°C (7-9°F) above the 1981 to 2010 average1 . Climate models have always predicted that global warming would be at least twice as fast in the Arctic as in the rest of the planet as a whole thanks to Arctic Amplification. Arctic Amplification is the process that includes higher temperatures melting highly reflective white ice and snow, which is replaced by the dark blue sea or dark land, both of which absorb more solar energy than ice and lead to more melting.

Coupled to this is the fact that the permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and as it defrosts, it releases that carbon in the form of either CO2 or even worse methane (CH4). Thus accelerated warming of the Arctic leads to accelerated global warming which leads to even more warming of the Arctic and so on, not good news.

1http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/03/13/3759569/record-february-warmth-alaska-arctic/

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