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Greenhouse Gas Levels Are The Highest Ever Seen — And That's Going Back 800,000 Years

Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere that contribute to climate change are the highest ever recorded — and that's going back 800,000 years.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide, one of the primary greenhouse gases, hit 412.5 parts per million in 2020. That's 2.5 parts per million higher than in 2019, and it's now the highest ever observed, the scientists said.

Recording the data is done with modern instrumental methods as well as observing ice core records that date back 800,000 years.

The report also said the amount of carbon from fossil fuel emissions in the oceans in 2020 was the highest it's been in the 39-year record and 30% higher than the average amount measured from 1999-2019.

Last year saw some record-setting in other aspects of climate as well. It was the ninth year in a row that global sea levels hit a new record. Global sea levels are rising a little more than 1 inch each decade because glaciers and ice sheets are melting, and the oceans are heating up. The global surface temperature in 2020 was also among the three highest ever recorded, in data going back to the 1800s.

Changes in climate and atmosphere result in drastic natural disasters as well, including extreme drought, more wildfires, tropical storms and rainier monsoon seasons, which can trigger flooding and landslides.

Human emissions of greenhouse gases — primarily from burning fossil fuels — are the cause of global warming. Scientists have said emissions must fall dramatically this decade to avoid catastrophic warming.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.