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8.1: Climate Science And Carbon Dioxide

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    289405
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    Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important heat-trapping (greenhouse) gas, which is released through human activities such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, as well as natural processes such as respiration and volcanic eruptions. Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) shows CO2 levels during the last three glacial cycles, as reconstructed from ice cores, as well as direct measurements from 2002-2021.
     

    Historic CO2 levels for the past 800,000 years.
    CO2 levels from 2005-2021
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Atomopheric CO2 concentrations based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. Data as of November 2021. (Credit NOAA via NASA)


    Carbon dioxide, CO2, is the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities. In 2015, CO2 accounted for about 82.2% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. Carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the Earth's carbon cycle (the natural circulation of carbon among the atmosphere, oceans, soil, plants, and animals). Human activities are altering the carbon cycle, both by adding more CO2 to the atmosphere and by influencing the ability of natural sinks, like forests, to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. While CO2 emissions come from a variety of natural sources, human-related emissions are responsible for the increase that has occurred in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.

    The main human activity that emits CO2 is the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil) for energy and transportation, although certain industrial processes and land-use changes also emit CO2. As an example of how CO2 can be generated, consider the combustion of octane, a component of gasoline:

    2 C8H18 (l) + 25 O2 (g) → 16 CO2 (g) + 18 H2O (g)

    This balanced reaction demonstrates that for every two molecules of octane that are burned, 16 molecules of CO2 are generated.
         

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