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Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Robert A. Rohde, (from published NOAA data)

This figure, the famous Keeling Curve, shows the history of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations as directly measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. This curve is an essential piece of evidence that shows the increased greenhouse gases that cause recent increases in global temperatures.

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Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

About the Science

  • The Keeling Curve, measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii is the the longest record of measured atmospheric CO2 levels and has been independently confirmed at many other sites around the world.
  • The annual fluctuation in carbon dioxide is caused by seasonal variations in carbon dioxide uptake by land plants. Since many more forests are concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere, more carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere during Northern Hemisphere summer than during Southern Hemisphere summer.
  • This annual cycle is shown in the inset figure by taking the average concentration for each month across all measured years. This cycle is sometimes referred to as the "breathing" of the Earth.
  • The red curve shows the average monthly concentrations, and the blue curve is a moving 12 month average.
  • Data used to make the graph is referenced to NOAA at: ftp://ftp.cmdl.noaa.gov/ccg/co2/trends/co2_mm_mlo.txt
  • Comments from expert scientist: Plot is clear and easy to understand and quickly conveys the two take home messages of this resource material. Text is written at a level appropriate for the general public and is of an appropriate length and level of detail for a casual reader.

About the Pedagogy

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Excellent quality and can be downloaded at a variety of resolutions for presentations.

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