This graph shows the annual mean carbon dioxide growth rates observed at NOAA's Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory, from 1960 to March 2017. Further information can be found on the ESRL Global Monitoring Division website. Graphic: NOAA

10 March 2017 (NOAA) – Carbon dioxide levels measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Baseline Atmospheric Observatory rose by 3 parts per million to 405.1 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, an increase that matched the record jump observed in 2015.

The two-year, 6-ppm surge in the greenhouse gas between 2015 and 2017 is unprecedented in the observatory’s 59-year record. And, it was a record fifth consecutive year that carbon dioxide (CO2) rose by 2 ppm or greater, said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA's Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

“The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last Ice Age,” Tans said. “This is a real shock to the atmosphere.”

Globally averaged CO2 levels passed 400 ppm in 2015 — a 43-percent increase over pre-industrial levels. In February 2017, CO2 levels at Mauna Loa had already climbed to 406.42 ppm.

Measurements are independently validated

NOAA has measured CO2 on site at the Mauna Loa observatory since 1974. To ensure accuracy, air samples from the mountaintop research site in Hawaii are shipped to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, for verification. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which first began sampling CO2 at Mauna Loa in 1956, also takes independent measurements onsite.

Emissions from fossil-fuel consumption have remained at historically high levels since 2011 and are the primary reason atmospheric CO2 levels are increasing at a dramatic rate, Tans said. This high growth rate of CO2 is also being observed at some 40 other sites in NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

The greenhouse effect, explained

Carbon dioxide is one of several gases that are primarily responsible for trapping heat in the atmosphere. This “greenhouse effect” maintains temperatures suitable for life on Earth. Increasing CO2 levels trap additional heat in the atmosphere and the oceans, contributing to rising global average temperatures.

Atmospheric CO2 averaged about 280 ppm between about 10,000 years ago and the start of the Industrial Revolution around 1760.

More: Track CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa and other global locations online.


Theo Stein, 303-497-6288

Carbon dioxide levels rose at record pace for 2nd straight year


  1. Tihamer said...

    Everyone knows that plants absorb CO2.

    More precisely:

    The CO2 concentration of the greenhouse air directly influences the amount of photosynthesis (growth) of plants. Normal outdoor CO2 concentration is around 390 parts per million (ppm). Plants in a closed greenhouse during a bright day can deplete the CO2 concentration to 100 ppm, which severely reduces the rate of photosynthesis. In greenhouses, increasing CO2 concentrations to 1000-1500 ppm speeds growth.

    My question is this: If CO2 is increasing, why aren't plants absorbing it?

    Either they aren't able to take advantage of it (which doesn't make sense, given that they certainly grow faster at 1000-1500 ppm; they are not shocked by the sudden (minutes-long transition) shock of increased CO2. Alternatively, the data is somehow wrong. Maybe CO2 is only increasing at the data gathering points (How could that possibly happen?). Or maybe there is another explanation? I am mystified by these contradictory facts, and have no hypothesis that explains them. I would love to hear yours.  

  2. Jim said...

    Its a good question, and there are a few recent studies suggesting that increased CO2 won't enhance plant growth, e.g.:

    Grassland tuned to present environmental conditions suffers in a hotter future – Study finds no CO2 fertilization effect

    Climate models: each 1°C increase in global temperature reduces global wheat production by average of 5.7 percent

    Harvests in the U.S. to suffer under global warming

    In a high-carbon dioxide world, canopy damage from insects limits forest growth – ‘This is the first time, at this scale, that insects have been shown to compromise the ability of forests to take up carbon dioxide’

    Carbon dioxide's effect on plants increases global warming  


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