Last week was the first time (in human history) that the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere passed the 400 parts per million mark. Although the carbon dioxide levels fluctuate yearly, they peak in May because of decaying vegetation releasing CO2. The last time the CO2 levels were thought to be this high was 3-5 million years ago. “Reef corals suffered a major extinction while forests grew up to the northern edge of the Arctic Ocean, a region which is today bare tundra.” Researchers are stressing immediate action to curb emissions on a global scale, or similar ecological effects will be imminent. Scientists are hopeful that the UN summit in Paris scheduled for 2015 will finally give the issue the attention it needs. The summit is “the deadline set to settle a binding international treaty to curb emissions. ” The level of CO2 is rising at a phenomenal rate (perhaps 75 times faster than in pre-industrial time). The article has a cool interactive section at the end that shows and explains the “Keeling curve” that records the Earth’s CO2 levels.
If you are more of a visual person, and graphs just don’t do it for you, try this link: Stunning 30-year Time-lapse Shows Earth’s Changing Surface. The pictures are possible because of the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA’s Landsat program. The website shows a time-lapse of the Columbia glacier retreat and the urban expansion of Las Vegas.