Animation of atmospheric carbon dioxide from the Sciamachy instrument on Envisat (2002–12) and the TANSO instrument on Japan’s GOSAT (2009–12). Over time, carbon dioxide levels gradually increase fromshades of blue (representing lower levels) to shades of red (higher levels).
Carbon dioxide is expressed in parts per million (ppm).
Copyright University Bremen/ESA
Measurements show that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen.
Since pre-industrial times, carbon dioxide levels have increased 40 per cent. The biggest cause of the increase is fossil fuel emissions, while land use changes - for example turning forest into farmland - are the second biggest cause.
SOURCE: IPCC AR5 SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS
Ancient air bubbles trapped in ice enable us to step back in time and see what Earth's atmosphere, and climate, were like in the distant past. They tell us that levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are higher than they have been at any time in the past 400,000 years. During ice ages, CO2 levels were around 200 parts per million (ppm), and during the warmer interglacial periods, they hovered around 280 ppm (see fluctuations in the graph). In 2013, CO2 levelssurpassed 400 ppm for the first time in recorded history. This recent relentless risein CO2 shows a remarkably constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning, and can be well accounted for based on the simple premise that about 60 percent of fossil-fuel emissions stay in the air.
Today, we stand on the threshold of a new geologic era, which some term the "Anthropocene", one where the climate is very different to the one our ancestors knew.
If fossil-fuel burning continues at a business-as-usual rate, such that humanity exhausts the reserves over the next few centuries, CO2 will continue to rise to levels of order of 1500 ppm. The atmosphere would then not return to pre-industrial levels even tens of thousands of years into the future. This graph not only conveys the scientific measurements, but it also underscores the fact that humans have a great capacity to change the climate and planet.
You can also find this graphic on NASA “Evidence” page.
Credit: Data: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some description adapted from the Scripps CO2 Program website, "Keeling Curve Lessons."