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Carbon, the atmosphere and our future

Two new studies detail the presence of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Tropical deforestation CSIRO

Carbon dioxide is known to be one of the greenhouse gases that can cause the Earth's atmosphere to retain heat. Today, two new scientific studies have been released that offer more insight into carbon and its dispersal into the air as carbon dioxide.

First, from Australia's CSIRO, the national science agency, comes a study on carbon contained within tropical forests that is thus not available to be released as CO2. This study says the current deforestation rate in the tropics releases 1.5 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere annually--about one-fifth of all carbon emissions caused by human activity.

Another study describes the fate of CO2 trapped within the Pacific Ocean. This study, released by Kent State University, found that there had been massive prehistoric releases of carbon dioxide. Two of these occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, triggered by changes in ocean currents. Right now, the scientists say, carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere are the highest they've been in 650,000 years. That's even before the invention of the radio and phonograph if you're following on a timeline.

Oceans have absorbed about half the carbon we humans have pumped into the air in the past 300 years. But if current climate change alters ocean currents enough, there could be another massive release of carbon dioxide now trapped within the ocean. That would only accelerate the warming of the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, one company is working on trying to increase the amount of carbon now trapped by the oceans. Their plan is to use some friendly plankton to capture carbon. I just hope we humans haven't totally alienated every other organism on the planet.