Advertisement

Carbon Dioxide Is Becoming More Fearsome, Scientists Find

Beat the Heat

New research has found that the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide, the gas primarily responsible for making our planet hotter, becomes even more potent as as more of it is emitted.

That grim finding comes from a new study, published in the journal Science, which took a look at CO2's effects in the stratosphere. Scientists have known that carbon dioxide actually cools this upper region of the atmosphere, but this latest work shows that stratospheric cooling ends up intensifying the greenhouse effect it causes.

Put another way: carbon dioxide is getting pound-for-pound stronger at heating up our planet the more of it that we pump into the atmosphere.

"It is yet further confirmation that carbon emissions must be curbed sooner rather than later to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change," said co-author Brian Soden, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Miami, in a statement about the work.

Bad to Worse

You'd expect the amount of heat trapped in the atmosphere to steadily build as more carbon is released. This is known as radiative forcing, and until now, it was believed to be constant, not variable.

In reality, the researchers found that the radiative forcing is increasing by about 25 percent with each doubling of CO2, and since the pre-industrial era, has nudged up by a total 10 percent. Going forward, in other words, our planet seems poised to warm at a faster rate than it already has.

"Future increases in CO2 will provide a more potent warming effect on climate than an equivalent increase in the past," said lead author Haozhe He at the University of Miami in the statement. "This new understanding has significant implications for interpreting both past and future climate changes and implies that high CO2 climates may be intrinsically more sensitive than low CO2 climates."

For obvious reasons, that's ominous. But we suppose we'll just have to add it to the growing pile of all the ways scientists are finding that climate change is even worse than we thought.

More on climate change: Scientists Say These Villains Are Causing Way More Than Their Share of Climate Change