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[greenyes] Climate Change - Possible Evidence of Runaway Effect

Climate fear as carbon levels soar

Scientists bewildered by sharp rise of CO2 in atmosphere for second year

Paul Brown, environment correspondent
Monday October 11, 2004
The Guardian

An unexplained and unprecedented rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
two years running has raised fears that the world may be on the brink of
runaway global warming.
Scientists are baffled why the quantity of the main greenhouse gas has leapt
in a two-year period and are concerned that the Earth's natural systems are
no longer able to absorb as much as in the past.

The findings will be discussed tomorrow by the government's chief scientist,
Dr David King, at the annual Greenpeace business lecture.

Measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere have been continuous for almost 50
years at Mauna Loa Observatory, 12,000ft up a mountain in Hawaii, regarded
as far enough away from any carbon dioxide source to be a reliable measuring

In recent decades CO2 increased on average by 1.5 parts per million (ppm) a
year because of the amount of oil, coal and gas burnt, but has now jumped to
more than 2 ppm in 2002 and 2003.

Above or below average rises in CO2 levels in the atmosphere have been
explained in the past by natural events.

When the Pacific warms up during El Niño - a disruptive weather pattern
caused by weakening trade winds - the amount of carbon dioxide rises
dramatically because warm oceans emit CO2 rather than absorb it.

But scientists are puzzled because over the past two years, when the
increases have been 2.08 ppm and 2.54 ppm respectively, there has been no El

Charles Keeling, the man who began the observations in 1958 as a young
climate scientist, is now 74 and still working in the field.

He said yesterday: "The rise in the annual rate to above two parts per
million for two consecutive years is a real phenomenon.
"It is possible that this is merely a reflection of natural events like
previous peaks in the rate, but it is also possible that it is the beginning
of a natural process unprecedented in the record."

Analysts stress that it is too early to draw any long-term conclusions.

But the fear held by some scientists is that the greater than normal rises
in C02 emissions mean that instead of decades to bring global warming under
control we may have only a few years. At worst, the figures could be the
first sign of the breakdown in the Earth's natural systems for absorbing the

That would herald the so-called "runaway greenhouse effect", where the
planet's soaring temperature becomes impossible to contain. As the icecaps
melt, less sunlight is refected back into space from ice and snow, and bare
rocks begin to absorb more heat. This is already happening.

One of the predictions made by climate scientists in the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change is that as the Earth warms, the absorption of carbon
dioxide by vegetation - known as "carbon sink" - is reduced.

Dr Keeling said since there was no sign of a dramatic increase in the amount
of fossil fuels being burnt in 2002 and 2003, the rise "could be a weakening
of the Earth's carbon sinks, associated with the world warming, as part of a
climate change feedback mechanism. It is a cause for concern'.'


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