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Variations in carbon dioxide concentrations in Earth's atmosphere

Robert A. Rohde, Global Warming Art

This graph, based on key ice core data sets and recent monitoring programs, shows the variations in concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere during the last 400,000 years.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Global warming and especially arctic warming is recorded in natural geological and historic records
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Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
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Global warming is "very likely" caused by human greenhouse gas emission
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Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Discussion of this visualization should include information about how ice cores are collected and analyzed as well as the Mauna Loa Observatory data.
  • Also link to Milankovitch orbital cycles, which play an important role in climate change over millennial scales: http://serc.carleton.edu/resources/36458.html

About the Science

  • This figure was developed from credible data sources, e.g. US Department of Energy, Nature Earth and Planetary Science Letters. While the figure does not contain the most recent data from the Mauna Loa Observatory, available elsewhere, it does illustrate several important ice core records.
  • The graph clearly shows that since the Industrial Revolution, circa 1800, the burning of fossil fuels has caused a dramatic increase of CO2 in the atmosphere, reaching levels that are likely unprecedented in the last 20 million years.
  • Comment from expert scientist: It points out CO2 has a natural variability, but since the industrial revolution, anthropogenic sources have caused changes to the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere beyond the natural variability.

About the Pedagogy

  • This visualization illustrates some of the main evidence that the current levels of global carbon dioxide are historically unprecedented. It is central to any discussion of human-induced climate change.
  • Discussions around this visualization can include the different sources of CO2 data that scientists validated and merged to produce the graph, including the Vostok Ice Core, EPICA ice core, Law Dome ice core, Siple ice core, and Mauna Loa Observations.

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

This is some background information at: http://www.fs.fed.us/ccrc/climate-basics/climate-primer.shtml where the same figure appears.

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