Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA

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The Mauna Loa record can now be placed in the context of the variations in CO2 over the past 400,000 years, based on reconstructions from polar ice cores. During ice ages, the CO2 levels were around 200 ppm, and during the warmer interglacial periods, the levels were around 280 ppm. The levels in 2005 were around 378 ppm.

 

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Looking ahead, if the rate of fossil-fuel burning continues to rise on a business-as-usual trajectory, such that humanity exhausts the reserves over the next few centuries, CO2 will continue to rise to levels of order 1500 ppm. The atmosphere will not return to pre-industrial levels even tens of thousands of years into the future. Unless serious efforts are made to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, it is clear that we are on a threshold of a new era of geologic history, one with climate very different from that of our ancestors. These curves not only demonstrate the seriousness of the global warming problem, but also illustrate the power of continuous time series to communicate and clarify the essential science.

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