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Paleo Slide Set: Polar Ice Cores
Measurements of Greenhouse Gases
The most alarming finding from the initial wave of Vostok research is presented here: Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations (as measured atop Hawaii's Mauna Loa) are currently at their highest levels of the past 160,000 years. As shown earlier, CO2 levels are generally high during warm interglacial periods such as the last interglacial from ~110,000 to ~130,000 yr B. P. At the end of the last ice age (~15,000 yr B. P.), CO2 levels increased dramatically, reaching a level of ~280 ppmv (parts per million by volume) in the present millennium. Another Antarctic record, the Siple core, documents a rapid increase in CO2 levels since the early 1800s due to anthropogenic (man-made) impacts, primarily the burning of fossil fuels. Direct measurements of atmospheric CO2 have been made at Mauna Loa, Hawaii since the late 1950s. Vostok, Siple, and Mauna Loa create a composite picture of the enormous impact human activities have had on the natural environment, documenting a two-fold increase in CO2 in the last 15 kyr. Climatologists and policy-makers alike are struggling to understand and prevent the rapid climate change that future increases (anthropogenic or otherwise) in CO2 levels may cause.

Photo Credits:
Thomas Andrews
NOAA Paleoclimatology Program
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Last Modified: 12 October 2001

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