What is the Keeling curve?

Who better to explain the Keeling Curve than Ralph Keeling.  It was research by his father, Charles David Keeling, beginning in 1958 at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, that continues to provide some of the most convincing scientific evidence of increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the primary driver of global warming.

The Keeling Curve bridges present day concentrations of atmospheric CO2 with those of the past by making daily observations that show the potent greenhouse gas is accumulating in the atmosphere.

Keeling, a professor of climate sciences at the University of California at San Diego, described the curve first plotted by his father as an “iconic record that embraces the depth of the climate problem” triggered by burning fossil fuels.

It may be a plain-looking chart, but seeing the line go up and up and up is significant because it represents more heat being trapped by the atmosphere that in turn is causing the planet to become warmer than it would be naturally.

“It is the most compelling evidence of human impact on the planet,” said Keeling, who continues his father’s work at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Keeling said he is optimistic that a total climate disaster can be avoided but that it will require a massive reduction in carbon emissions to bend the Keeling Curve in the opposite direction.

He calls his father prescient for the work that is led to the Keeling Curve.

“He saw the inevitability,” Keeling said. “His science was aimed for the future that is not only today but tomorrow.”

And is he proud of his father? “Yes.”

—David Hasemyer

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