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Smoke and steam rise from a coal-fired power plant in Germany. Photo: Oliver Berg/picture alliance via Getty Images

The concentration of carbon dioxide, the main, long-lived greenhouse gas causing global climate change, in Earth's atmosphere has reached new heights, according to scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Why it matters: The new reading of 415.26 parts per million (ppm) on May 11 was the first daily baseline at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory to eclipse 415 ppm. That observatory has kept long-term record of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1958. That data, known as the Keeling Curve, traces the continuous increase in the amount of this greenhouse gas in the Earth's atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

  • Other observatories around the world also track this increase, which mainly results from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and other human activities. Studies of so-called proxy records detailing the composition of the atmosphere throughout Earth's history show that carbon dioxide levels are now at their highest point in at least 800,000 — and possibly as many as 3 million — years.

Details: The daily carbon dioxide milestone is largely symbolic, as peaks tend to occur in the Northern Hemisphere each spring. Scientists pay more attention to longer-term trends, rather than the daily data.

  • "The average growth rate is remaining on the high end," says Ralph Keeling, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography's CO2 program, via Twitter. Keeling's father, Charles, began the original CO2 observations in Hawaii.
  • "The increase from last year will probably be around three parts per million whereas the recent average has been 2.5 ppm," Keeling said.

The big picture: Scientists have warned that if the world is to limit global warming to 1.5°C, or 2.7°F, above pre-industrial levels, then sharp emissions cuts have to begin in the next few years, with the world headed for negative emissions — meaning more carbon dioxide is removed by the planet's oceans, forests and other systems — than is emitted by the end of the century.

  • Otherwise Earth will see carbon dioxide concentrations exceeding 450 ppm, which will yield larger increases in global sea levels than we've seen so far, along with increasingly severe extreme weather events, such as heat waves and heavy precipitation events.

What's next: Scientists from Scripps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will likely announce a new carbon dioxide monthly record in early June. A new annual figure will come out in early 2020.

Go deeper: Global carbon dioxide emissions reached record high in 2018

Go deeper

House passes $1.9 trillion COVID relief package

Photo: Screenshot via C-SPAN

The House approved President Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID relief package on a 219-212 vote early Saturday morning, sending it to the Senate for a possible rewrite before it gets to Biden's desk.

The big picture: The vote was a critical first step for the package, which includes $1,400 cash payments for many Americans, a national vaccination program, ramped-up COVID testing and contact tracing, state and local funding and money to help schools reopen.

7 hours ago - Health

Biden says it's "not the time to relax" after touring vaccination site

President Biden speaking after visiting a FEMA Covid-19 vaccination facility in Houston on Feb. 26. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said Friday that "it's not the time to relax" coronavirus mitigation efforts and warned that the number of cases and hospitalizations could rise again as new variants of the virus emerge.

Why it matters: Biden, who made the remarks after touring a vaccination site in Houston, echoed CDC director Rochelle Walensky, who said earlier on Friday that while the U.S. has seen a recent drop in cases and hospitalizations, "these declines follow the highest peak we have experienced in the pandemic."

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: Most COVID-19 survivors can weather risk of reinfection, study says — "Twindemic" averted as flu reports plummet amid coronavirus crisis
  2. Vaccine: FDA advisory panel endorses J&J COVID vaccine for emergency use — About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says — New data reignites the debate over coronavirus vaccine strategy.
  3. Economy: What's really going on with the labor market.
  4. Local: All adult Minnesotans will likely be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by summer — Another wealthy Florida community receives special access to COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Sports: Poll weighs impact of athlete vaccination.