New CSIRO website shows steady rise of greenhouse gases

CSIRO scientist Dr Paul Fraser examining air stored in the Cape Grim Air Archive. Anyone can now explore online the record levels of greenhouse gases measured in the Southern Hemisphere atmosphere since 1976. North Sullivan Photography

A new website launched today allows the public to see how greenhouse gas emissions have risen steadily over the past 35 years.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) launched the site so members of the community can see for themselves how the climate-warming gases have increased as a result of human activity.

“The atmospheric level of carbon dioxide, which is the most important long-lived greenhouse gas influenced by human activities, is at its highest level in more than a million years,” said Dr Paul Fraser from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research.

“It is currently increasing at about 0.5 per cent each year.”

The website has interactive graphs showing the levels of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Chemicals that deplete the ozone layer are also measured, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons and the site is updated monthly as new air samples are tested.

The data are taken from air samples collected by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology at Cape Grim in Tasmania, which is thought to be a good standard of global changes in greenhouse gases because of its famously clean air.

Easily accessible and reliable data will help ensure the public has access to the facts on climate change.

“The measurements testify to a steady rise in carbon dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere, mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation,” said Dr Fraser.

“The graphs we’ve made available online will enable people to examine the evidence about the major driver of recent climate change. This is fundamental information in determining the global actions needed to avoid greenhouse gases rising to dangerous levels.”

By examining ancient air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists are also able to compare how current levels of greenhouse gases compare to levels over the last 1000 years.

Carbon dioxide is currently rising at almost 2 parts per million molar (ppm) per year, said Dr Fraser.

“Together, these measurements allow us to trace the dramatic rise in carbon dioxide levels from about 280 ppm before the start of the industrial era around the year 1800, to 388 ppm in 2010. That’s an increase of almost 40 per cent, largely due to human activities.”

Many climate scientists, including the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have said that a safe level of carbon dioxide concentration would be around 350ppm.

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