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CO2 concentration in atmosphere over last 800 thousand years

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth's atmosphere has varied significantly over the past 800,000 years. This information is primarily derived from the study of ice cores drilled from Antarctica and Greenland, which provide a record of past atmospheric conditions.

Below is the graph of CO2 concentration in atmosphere over 800 thousand years created by Reddit user: drivenbydata. Time on this graph is warped using sqrt scale before 1900 for readability.
CO2 concentration in atmosphere over last 800 thousand years

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, which began in the late 18th century, the Earth's climate experienced a series of glacial-interglacial cycles. During ice ages, CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were generally lower, typically ranging between approximately 180 to 280 parts per million (ppm). These fluctuations were primarily driven by natural factors such as volcanic activity, variations in Earth's orbit, and changes in solar radiation.

During interglacial periods, like the one we are currently in (the Holocene), CO2 levels rose to higher values within the range of 180 to 300 ppm. These variations were associated with changes in temperature, ice sheet dynamics, and ocean circulation patterns.

However, the most significant departure from these historical norms occurred with the onset of the Industrial Revolution. The widespread burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), deforestation, and industrial processes released substantial quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere. This anthropogenic activity has led to a rapid increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

In September 2021, the atmospheric CO2 concentration had surpassed 415 ppm, which is significantly higher than any point in the past 800,000 years. This rise in CO2 levels has been accompanied by an acceleration in the rate of increase in recent decades, primarily due to continued fossil fuel combustion.

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