Monday, December 17, 2007
An Icon of Climate Change Research Turns 50
The Keeling Curve, the steady carbon dioxide record, remains priceless in an era of rapid climate change
Scripps Institution of Oceanography / University of California, San Diego
American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2007
The Keeling Curve, the measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels that launched the modern era of climate change research, continues to play a crucial role in climate science nearly 50 years after its first point was plotted. Today researchers continue to detect new information about climate trends and feedbacks from this valuable CO2 data set.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego geochemist Ralph Keeling has maintained the carbon dioxide record that his father, Charles David Keeling, began in March 1958 atop Hawaii's Mauna Loa.
The "Keeling Curve," a measure of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, plotted through 2007.
The younger Keeling will describe the increasing value the Keeling Curve has provided in a presentation included in one of two AGU Union sessions commemorating the carbon dioxide record: "Global Earth Observations: Looking 50 Years Back and 50 Years Forward," and "Climate Effects on Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Over the Last Century."
"These measurements, even though repetitive, are terribly exciting at a time when the earth is rapidly changing," said Ralph Keeling.
Charles David Keeling (left) and son and fellow geochemist Ralph Keeling with an interferometer built by Ralph Keeling, 1989.
Keeling will recount the history of the Mauna Loa carbon dioxide record, which has since been augmented by measurements taken at other stations around the world. The Keeling Curve's history includes several near-brushes with termination, the most threatening only six years after its inception when the government agency then known as the National Weather Bureau nearly closed the Mauna Loa Observatory, almost ending the program entirely because of budget cuts. Charles David Keeling, who died in 2005, cobbled together enough funds from a variety of sources to keep the curve going. The CO2 record continues to face funding threats to this day, said Ralph Keeling.
The Keeling Curve's duration and consistency, however, make it a valuable asset for assessing the probability of future climate trends and to discover trends taking place now. Related to Keeling's lecture, Scripps graduate student Lauren Rafelski will report on the possibility that rises in air temperatures over land may have accelerated the recent rise in CO2.
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Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. The National Research Council has ranked Scripps first in faculty quality among oceanography programs nationwide Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today in 65 countries. The institution has a staff of about 1,300, and annual expenditures of approximately $155 million from federal, state and private sources. Scripps operates one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration.
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