Science

Carbon Dioxide Record Spike In 2012: Climate Change Getting Worse

By Hilda Scott , Mar 07, 2013 11:28 AM EST

Carbon dioxide levels went up significantly in 2012 and new data shows that fossil fuel use is on the rise. It will be difficult to limit global warming due to these spikes.

Monitoring the atmospheric winds and chemicals produced by factories, helps scientists to track carbon pollution.

Around the world, the development of power plants that burn coal is the main reason that carbon dioxide emissions are rising. This counteracts the efforts in many parts of the world that have gone "green" to conserve and promote clean energy, particularly in the U.S.

Scientists note that China is the largest fossil fuel burner and since 2011, its carbon dioxide levels jumped to a total just under 395 parts per million. The increase from year to year was 2.67 parts per million. The 2012 increase is the second highest since 1959, when carbon emission data began being recorded. The largest increase occurred in 1998, with an increase of 2.93 parts per million.

Carbon dioxide absorption by plants and the ocean pulled in less than average numbers last year.  Pointing out that fossil fuel burning is responsible, "It's just a testament to human influence being dominant," said Pieter Tans, who leads the greenhouse gas measurement team for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to the Associated Press.

Global warming is affected, since plants help to keep the planet cool. Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere prevent plants from cooling the planet and affect the absorption of carbon dioxide in photosynthesis.

"There is no longer any doubt that carbon dioxide decreases evaporative cooling by plants and that this decreased cooling adds to global warming," said Long Cao, a scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Science.

Similar to the way perspiration though pores cools down human beings, tiny pores in the leaves of plants known as "stomata" give off water in a process called evapotranspiration. This water is released into the air by plants by the gallons, especially on hot days. When carbon dioxide levels are high in the Earth's atmosphere, the pores of the leaves shrink and lower the cooling power of trees and other plant life. The continuous rise in air pollution will lead to the Earth experiencing the harmful effects of global warming at a faster pace.

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