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As We Jump Into Summer, Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Levels Jump Again

June 22, 2023

As the academic year draws to a close and educators and students disperse for a well-deserved summer break, scientists from NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography summarize their latest findings: in short, it has been another record year. Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels have continued climbing further into territory not seen for millions of years. Last month, measurements of CO2 obtained by NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory averaged 424.0 parts per million (ppm), a 3.0 ppm increase over the 2022 average for May. 

Carbon dioxide levels are now more than 50% higher than they were before the onset of the industrial era. This dramatic rise is primarily attributed to emissions stemming from fossil fuel combustion and deforestation practices. Though some of these emissions have remained in the atmosphere, the Earth’s ocean is tightly linked with the atmosphere and absorbs huge amounts of carbon dioxide each year. This exchange, in part, helps to regulate the planet’s atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but comes at a cost for the ocean and life within it; from the smallest, single-celled algae to the largest whales. 

So, what IS the cost to the ocean? The lessons and data tools in the Ocean Acidification module can help students explore cause-and-effect relationships between rising carbon dioxide concentrations, ocean chemistry and the growth and survival of shell-building organisms. By examining these parameters using interactive graphs and models, students can predict whether ocean conditions support the growth and survival of shell-building marine life, both now and in the future.