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Dramatic Rise In CO2 And Possibility Of More Superstorms Like Sandy

By Countercurrents.org

6 March 2013

The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air jumped dramatically in 2012, making it very unlikely that global warming can be limited to another 2 degrees as many global leaders have hoped, new US federal figures show.

Scientists say the rise in CO2 reflects the world's economy revving up and burning more fossil fuels, especially in China.

Carbon dioxide levels jumped by 2.67 parts per million since 2011 to total just under 395 parts per million, says Pieter Tans, who leads the GHG measurement team for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That's the second highest rise in carbon emissions since record-keeping began in 1959. The measurements are taken from air samples captured away from civilization near a volcano in Mauna Loa, Hawaii.

More coal-burning power plants are the main reason emissions keep going up – even as they have declined in the US and other places, in part through conservation and cleaner energy.

At the same time, plants and the world's oceans which normally absorb some carbon dioxide, last year took in less than they do on average, says John Reilly, co-director of Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Plant and ocean absorption of carbon varies naturally year to year.

But, Tans tells The Associated Press the major factor is ever-rising fossil fuel burning: "It's just a testament to human influence being dominant."

Only 1998 had a bigger annual increase in carbon dioxide, the primary GHG from human activity. That year, 2.93 parts per million of CO2 was added. From 2000 to 2010, the world averaged a yearly rise of just under 2 parts per million. Levels rose by less than 1 part per million in the 1960s.

In 2009, the world's nations agreed on a voluntary goal of limiting global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial temperature levels. Since the mid-1800s temperatures haven risen about 1.5 degrees. Current pollution trends translate to another 2.5 to 4.5 degrees of warming within the next several decades, Reilly says.

"The prospects of keeping climate change below 2-degree goal are fading away," Tans says.

Scientists track carbon pollution both by monitoring what comes out of factories and what winds up in the atmosphere. Both are rising at rates faster than worst-case scenarios that climate scientists used in their most recent international projections, according to Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

That means harmful effects of climate change will happen sooner, Mann says.

More Sandy storms

Cornell and Rutgers researchers report in the March issue of Oceanography that the severe loss of summertime Arctic sea ice -- attributed to greenhouse warming -- appears to enhance Northern Hemisphere jet stream meandering, intensify Arctic air mass invasions toward middle latitudes, and increase the frequency of atmospheric blocking events like the one that steered Hurricane Sandy west into the densely populated New York City area [2].

The article, "Superstorm Sandy: A Series of Unfortunate Events?" was authored by Charles H. Greene, Cornell professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and director of Cornell's Ocean Resources and Ecosystems program; Jennifer A. Francis of Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences; and Bruce C. Monger, Cornell senior research associate, earth and atmospheric sciences.

The researchers assert that the record-breaking sea ice loss from summer 2012, combined with the unusual atmospheric phenomena observed in late October, appear to be linked to global warming.

A strong atmospheric, high-pressure blocking pattern over Greenland and the northwest Atlantic prevented Hurricane Sandy from steering northeast and out to sea like most October hurricanes and tropical storms from the Caribbean. In fact, Sandy traveled up the Atlantic coast and turned left "toward the most populated area along the eastern seaboard" and converged with an extratropical cyclone; this, in turn, fed the weakening Hurricane Sandy and transformed it into a monster tempest.

Superstorm Sandy's extremely low atmospheric pressure and the strong high-pressure block to the north created violent east winds that pushed storm surge against the eastern seaboard. "To literally top it off, the storm surge combined with full-moon high tides and huge ocean waves to produce record high water levels that exceeded the worst-case predictions for parts of New York City," write the researchers.

Greene, Francis and Monger add: "If one accepts this evidence and . . . takes into account the record loss of Arctic sea ice this past September, then perhaps the likelihood of greenhouse warming playing a significant role in Sandy's evolution as an extratropical superstorm is at least as plausible as the idea that this storm was simply a freak of nature."


[1] 03/05/13, “2012 Rise In CO2 Levels Second-Highest In 54 Years”,

[2] Story Source:

The story is reprinted from materials provided by Cornell University. The original article was written by Blaine Friedlander.
Cornell University (2013, March 5). More storms like Sandy? Arctic ice loss amplified Superstorm Sandy violence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 6, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2013/03/130305145133.htm





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