Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a colorless and odorless gas consisting of one carbon and two oxygen atoms. CO2 is produced when carbon compounds are burned in the presence of oxygen. It is produced during forest fires and the combustion of fossil fuels. CO2 is also produced by the decay of organic matter and volcanic eruptions. Other important sources of carbon dioxide are emission by the oceans and respiration by humans and animals. Important sinks of carbon dioxide are absorption by oceans, photosynthesis, and plankton and plant growth. Because the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide varied significantly during the Earth's history, its atmospheric concentration also varied significantly. There is evidence that the concentration of carbon dioxide was very high in the Earth's early history, then declined steadily and reached a quasi-steady value of about 280 parts per million. The concentration varied around this value with climate fluctuations.

However, the huge increase in man-made emissions of carbon dioxide that came with the Industrial Revolution has been making its concentration to increase steadily since the end of the 18th century. Today, the concentration of carbon dioxide has already exceeded 350 parts per billion and continues to increase at the rate of more than one part per million per year. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been continuously measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, since 1957. It shows a clear annual cycle, resulting mainly from changes photosynthesis and a steady increase since the measurements started. The atmospheric concentration of CO2 before this record started can be measured from bubbles of air trapped in ice cores. They show a steady increase since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Human-induced emissions of carbon dioxide have increased dramatically and steadily since the end of the 18th century.

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