If you thought the Coronavirus lockdown in most countries globally will lead to cleaner air since cars are not on roads, aircrafts are grounded and factories aren’t entirely active, think again. The latest grim data suggests that the heat trapping carbon dioxide, or CO2, is recording its highest ever levels. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere clocked 417.2 parts per million in May, which is 2.4ppm higher than the peak of 414.8ppm in 2019. That is according to data from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Till this data came along, last year’s numbers were the highest ever recorded for the month of May. Scientists say that the CO2 levels in the atmosphere are at their highest in 3 million years.
It may come as a surprise because there is the assumption that reduced human and industrial activity because of the Coronavirus pandemic, is making the air cleaner and reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. Scientists attribute this recorded spike to the seasonal activity of trees and plants though. “The highest monthly mean CO2 value of the year occurs in May, just before plants start to remove large amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere during the northern hemisphere growing season. In the northern fall, winter, and early spring, plants and soils give off CO2, causing levels to rise through May,” says the research. The data has been collected at the Mauna Loa observatory in the US.
“It’s critically important to have these accurate, long-term measurements of CO2 in order to understand how quickly fossil fuel pollution is changing our climate,” says Pieter Tans, senior scientist with NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division. “These are measurements of the real atmosphere. They do not depend on any models, but they help us verify climate model projections, which if anything, have underestimated the rapid pace of climate change being observed.”
According to a study published in February, the last time the atmospheric CO2 amounts were this high was more than 3 million years ago. At that time, the global surface temperature was much higher, by as much as 2°–3°C (3.6°–5.4°F) higher than during the pre-industrial era. The sea levels were also higher at that time, by as much as 15–25 meters (50–80 feet), than they are today.
The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere rose to above 400ppm in 2014 and have stayed above that mark since.