World breaks through carbon dioxide threshold, putting it higher than it has been for millions of years

Andrew Griffin
Exhaust plumes from cooling towers at the Jaenschwalde lignite coal-fired power station, which is owned by Vatenfall, April 12, 2007 at Jaenschwalde, Germany: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

The world just blasted through a huge milestone for carbon dioxide.

The planet has more of the gas in its atmosphere than it has for millions of years, after the Mauna Loa Observatory recorded its first reading of more than 410 parts per million. While that round number doesn't mean anything scientifically, and the readings have been gradually rising over recent years, they show the stunning speed at which they are shooting up.

Increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the environment allow it to trap more heat and lead to the climate changing at an alarming and increasing rate.

In 2013, the world passed the landmark of 400ppm, as registered at Mauna Loa. But that has quickly become a normal reading – and now those readings have passed over another milestone.

“It's pretty depressing that it’s only a couple of years since the 400 ppm milestone was toppled,” Gavin Foster, a paleoclimate researcher at the University of Southampton told the website Climate Central. “These milestones are just numbers, but they give us an opportunity to pause and take stock and act as useful yard sticks for comparisons to the geological record.”

Scientists expect that the amount of carbon dioxide will keep increasing to the point that it nears 409ppm on a monthly, not just a daily, average. Monthly averages are already quickly moving towards that point, according to data made available on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego's website.

Some of the recent increase has been the result of natural effects like El Niño, which will lead the increase to slow down as they die off. But most of it is caused by people burning fossil fuels and contributing extra gas to the environment.

As people adopt more green fuels, that rate of increase will go up. But it is still expected to keep increasing, even if the rate slows down.

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