February 12, 2009

Carbon Dioxide Levels Rising Despite Economic Downturn

A leading scientist said on Thursday that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are hitting new highs, providing no indication that the world economic downturn is curbing industrial emissions, Reuters reported.

Kim Holmen, research director at the Norwegian Polar Institute, said the measurements taken by a Stockholm University project on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard off north Norway are in line with the long-term trend.

Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas emitted from human activities, and experts say levels rose to 392 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere in Svalbard in December, a rise of 2-3 ppm from the same time a year earlier.

Holmen said carbon dioxide concentrations are likely to rise further in 2009, indicating they usually peak just before the start of spring in the northern hemisphere, where most of the world's industry, cities and vegetation are located.

As they grow, plants consume carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, which is released by burning fossil fuels. Levels fall toward the northern summer and rise again in autumn when trees lose leaves and other plants die back.

Holmen said it's still too early to tell whether the economic slowdown was curbing the rise in emissions, adding any such change would be hard to detect.

"If we had, for example, a year with an unusually warm Siberian winter, that could cancel the human variation." A warm Russian winter would allow more bacteria to break down organic material in the soil, releasing carbon dioxide.

Since the Industrial Revolution, levels of carbon dioxide are up by about a third and scientists say levels are currently around the highest in at least 800,000 years.

Holmen said the increase is caused mainly by fossil fuel burning and to some extent land use change, where forests are being replaced by agricultural land.

Rising greenhouse gas concentrations are stoking warming likely to cause floods, droughts, heat waves, rising seas and extinctions, according to predictions from the U.N. Climate Panel.

"We can see the trend from these winter numbers," Holmen said.

Groups such as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agree that the numbers are higher than annual average year-round figures.

In an effort to succeed the floundering Kyoto Protocol, which sets carbon dioxide limits for 37 industrialized nations, more than 190 nations have agreed to negotiate a new international deal by the end of 2009 to fight climate change.


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