At a glance – How reliable are CO2 measurements?
Posted on 10 October 2023 by John Mason, BaerbelW
On February 14, 2023 we announced our Rebuttal Update Project. This included an ask for feedback about the added “At a glance” section in the updated basic rebuttal versions. This weekly blog post series highlights this new section of one of the updated basic rebuttal versions and serves as a “bump” for our ask. This week features “How reliable are CO2 measurements?“. More will follow in the upcoming weeks. Please follow the Further Reading link at the bottom to read the full rebuttal and to join the discussion in the comment thread there.
At a glance
Mauna Loa is an active volcano on ‘Big Island’, the largest of the chain that makes up the state of Hawaii. It does not erupt that often; the last four times at the time of writing (2023) were in 1950, 1975, 1984 and 2022-23. The summit is 4,169 metres (13,679 feet) above sea level.
The observatory that takes regular CO2 measurements is situated some 6.4 kilometres (4 miles) from the summit, on the volcano’s northern slopes. Here, the prevailing winds are the north-easterly Trades, blowing in clean air off the Pacific Ocean. Hour to hour CO2 levels in this airflow vary by no more than 0.3 parts per million (ppm).
Light southerly winds, bringing air from the volcano, can however occur under very specific weather conditions, normally late at night. Such conditions are readily detectable because unlike the steady ‘baseline’ readings, CO2 levels suddenly start to jump up and down wildly. These highly erratic CO2 levels are so different from the baseline data that they can easily be filtered out with mathematics. During the 2022-23 eruption, measurements from Mauna Loa Observatory had to be suspended from Nov. 29, 2022 and observations from then until July 4, 2023 were from the Mauna Kea Observatories, approximately 21 miles north of Mauna Loa.
Measurements of CO2 at Mauna Loa commenced in 1958. NOAA’s Earth Science Research Laboratory program also measures CO2 in over 60 locations around the world, taking air samples in flasks. Flask measurements and the Mauna Loa data show excellent agreement. This confirms that occasional detections of volcanic CO2 at Mauna Loa do not affect the final results. The data-filtering process paints a true picture of the situation.
The upward-sloping trend in CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa is a reflection of human activity. It represents our burning of fossil fuels and other types of carbon emissions. Superimposed on that upward trend is an annual wiggle. The wiggle represents the Fast Carbon Cycle, involving photosynthetic plants in the Northern Hemisphere. That’s where most of the planet’s landmasses happen to be. Every spring the plants become more active as the growing season starts and CO2 levels start to drop. But autumn comes along, the leaves shrivel and fall and CO2 rises again. It’s like the heartbeat of the planet, superimposed on the upwards slope that very definitely represents us.
In conclusion, scientists know all about the volcanic activity at Mauna Loa and the specific conditions in which volcanogenic gas emissions will be and are detected. To suggest otherwise is an example of the misrepresentation often required in order to promote the talking-points of science-denial.
Please use this form to provide feedback about this new “At a glance” section. Read a more technical version below or dig deeper via the tabs above!
In case you’d like to explore more of our recently updated rebuttals, here are the links to all of them: