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CO2 levels reach milestone on world’s most pristine continent

Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere have reached a milestone at the British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Halley Research Station in Antarctica – according to UEA and BAS scientists.

Researchers working at the station’s Clean Air Sector Laboratory (CASLab), recorded 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time this month.

CO2 in the atmosphere is the leading driver or recent climate change. CO2 concentrations in the northern hemisphere have already reached this milestone because of their proximity to human populations responsible for the highest emissions.

It takes considerably longer for the effect of CO2 emissions to reach remote locations in the southern hemisphere.

Unlike northern hemisphere stations, however, it is unlikely that Halley will ever again record values below 400 ppm, demonstrating the inexorable rise of atmospheric CO2 caused by burning fossil fuel.

Observations of the 400 ppm milestone were recorded near Antarctica last month by researchers from USA’s National Center for Atmospheric Research during a flight campaign, but this is the first time a sustained reading of 400 ppm, over the period of a day, has been recorded at a research station on the ice.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, said: “This new data highlights once more the need to move away from fossil fuels as an energy source.

"We are making huge progress in the UK and worldwide with major deployments of renewable energy. However, our cars still run on petrol and our homes are still heated with gas, and that is really slowing down progress.

"Emissions need to decrease to near zero to stop the rise in CO2 at Halley and elsewhere and to control climate change. We have all the solutions at our finger tips, we now just need to take action.”

Prof David Vaughan, director of science at British Antarctic Survey, said: “The remoteness of the Antarctic continent means it is one of the last places on Earth to see the effects of human activities, but the news that even here the milestone of carbon dioxide levels reaching 400 parts per million has been reached shows that no part of the planet is spared from the impacts of human activity.”

Ice cores from Antarctica show that carbon dioxide concentrations are higher today than they have ever been at any point in the last 800,000 years. In fact, when concentrations of the heat-trapping gas were last at 400 ppm, it was millions of years ago and temperatures and sea levels were far higher than today.

Prof Vaughan added: “Discussions in Paris last November showed the collective will of global leaders to limit the future global temperature to well below 2˚C. This data from Halley shows that the main cause of global warming, carbon dioxide concentrations, are still rising. And today at Halley Station, CO2 is rising faster than it was when we began measurements in the 1980s. We have changed our planet to the very poles.”

Top image: Tom Welsh, British Antarctic Survey

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