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According to a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Earth System Research Lab, the average monthly measurement for greenhouse gas was recorded at 400 parts per million in a remote Arctic location. The finding marks “a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide” that signals increases in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, which some scientists have warned about for several years.

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The NOAA have a series of monitoring stations across the Arctic that have been measuring how much CO2 is in the atmosphere. This spring, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Barrow, Alaska was measured as 400 ppm.

In a press release, Pieter Tans, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) said: “The northern sites in our monitoring network tell us what is coming soon to the globe as a whole. We will likely see global average CO2 concentrations reach 400 ppm about 2016.”

As a planet, we passed the 350 ppm mark years ago, which many scientists have said is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395 (average global levels of CO2 were 390.4 ppm in 2011). Before the Industrial Revolution of the 1880s, it is estimated that the global average CO2 was about 280 ppm.

“Turning up the levels of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is like turning up the dial on an electric blanket,” said Jim Butler, director of the ESRL Global Monitoring Division. “You know it will keep getting warmer, but you don’t know how quickly the temperature will rise, and it can take awhile for the blanket – or the atmosphere – to heat up.”

While these numbers are still technically “preliminary” and won’t be finalized until next year,  they are not expected to change by more than 0.2 ppm. The NOAA calculates the Annual Greenhouse Gas Index every year, which takes into account the heating effects of other gases that are emitted from human activities, such as methane, nitrous oxide and CFCs.

Click here to watch a NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory animation of carbon dioxide levels for the past 800,000 years.

+ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab

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