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Greenhouse gas concentrations have been on the rise since they were first studied and recorded in 1958. So it comes as no surprise that the most recent measurements from the World Meteorological Organization show another record high for carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

According to the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin released by the World Meteorological Organization Tuesday, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through 2013 reached 396 parts per million (ppm). This is almost 3 ppm higher than the concentration recorded in 2012.

The rise from 2012 to 2013 represents the largest annual increase since 1984, and the largest increase of the greenhouse gases studied (which also included methane and nitrous oxide). Carbon dioxide is widely acknowledged as one of the most important greenhouse gases to watch, as it can linger in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and traps heat, which leads to rising temperatures.

The following graph from the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows the consistent, upward trend of carbon dioxide concentrations during the past 30 years.

via Greenhouse Gas Bulletin

via Greenhouse Gas Bulletin

Carbon dioxide’s long-lasting nature means that the amount of CO2 trapped in the atmosphere will only continue to grow. The graph below shows the spike in 2013, with the rate of growth around 3 ppm. The only other spike as high occurred in 1998, which The Carbon Brief explains was the result of an El Niño event.

from greenhouse gas bulletin

via Greenhouse Gas Bulletin

Natural events, such as El Niño, can greatly influence levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. In the natural cycle of carbon dioxide, humans and animals breathe out CO2, plants absorb it, and oceans and soils absorb and emit CO2. Human activities have significantly altered that cycle. Burning oil, gas, and coal releases much more carbon dioxide than can be absorbed by plants, oceans, and soils. The findings from the Greenhouse Gas Bulletin indicate that increases in greenhouse gas emissions show no sign of subsiding.

Without aggressive action to limit CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, the uptick in concentrations will result in increased temperatures on Earth. The effects of higher temperatures are already being felt: California’s current drought has been deemed a state of emergency by Governor Jerry Brown, with no end in sight.

AFP Photo/Patrick Stollarz

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