Aerial photograph of the dominant fissure 3 erupting on the Northeast Rift Zone of Mauna Loa, taken at approximately 8 a.m. HST Nov. 29, 2022. / USGS photo by M. Patrick.
Aerial photograph of the dominant fissure 3 erupting on the Northeast Rift Zone of Mauna Loa, taken at approximately 8 a.m. HST Nov. 29, 2022. / USGS photo by M. Patrick.

About a month ago, our Environment Report revealed how the possibility of an eruption of the world’s largest volcano threatened the most famous climate change dataset on the planet. 

Well, that volcano blew its top over the weekend, shutting down power to instrumentation that’s been tracking carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere virtually uninterrupted since 1958. That dataset is called the Keeling Curve, named for Charles David Keeling who developed it, and there’s a notable and growing gap in that record as of 6:30 p.m. Monday evening. 

“The longer interruption, the bigger its impact,” said Ralph Keeling, a Scripps geoscientist and son of the record’s founder. 

Looking at the latest week’s worth of data, there’s a notable hard stop in carbon dioxide concentrations – measured in number of carbon dioxide molecules per million particles of air – collected by the instruments. 

The Keeling Curve as of Nov. 29. 2022 / Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Researchers were looking for an alternative volcanic site to host the instruments temporarily during the Mauna Loa volcano’s recent uptick in activity as of Oct. 31. Lava flows likely knocked-out the lone road leading to the research base. 

Scientists prize the dataset for the level of detail it provides on how much planet-warming carbon dioxide humans have added to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels as opposed to how much plants and natural ecosystems circulate. 

The Keeling Curve is being used to answer important questions like, are countries of the world meeting their targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions made under the 2016 Paris Agreement. In order to limit catastrophic effects of global warming, countries are trying to limit the amount the planet warms by 1.5 degrees celsius. That’s equivalent to about 430 parts-per-million of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. According to the Keeling Curve’s last reading, the planet already reached 416.87 parts-per-million.

“The natural level would have been around 275 parts-per-million,” Keeling said. “We’ll probably shoot way over 420 parts-per-million by next May.” 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.