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Climate Fears on Sharp CO2 Rise

   An unexplained rise in levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth's atmosphere has raised fears global warming is speeding up, according to reports.
    In recent decades CO2 rose on average 1.5 parts per million (ppm) a year but went up by over 2ppm in 2002 and 2003.
    Scientists fear the earth may be losing its ability to absorb the greenhouse gas, the Guardian and Independent say.
    One US physicist told the papers the rise could be the start of an "unprecedented" natural process.
    Dr. Charles Keeling, from the University of California at San Diego, began recording levels of CO2 in 1958 at an observatory on the top of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii.
    Previous changes to CO2 levels have been linked to natural occurrences, such as extreme weather patterns, but on Sunday Dr. Keeley said the increase over the last two years was a cause for concern.
   "The rise in the annual rate to above two parts per million for two consecutive years is a real phenomenon.
   "It is possible that this is merely a reflection of natural events like previous peaks in the rate, but it is also possible that it is the beginning of a natural process unprecedented in the record."
   The Independent quoted Dr. Keeley as saying: "This could be a decoupling of the Southern Oscillation from El Nio events, which itself could be caused by increased CO2 in the atmosphere; or it could be a weakening of the earth's carbon sinks.
    Carbon sinks are areas which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, such as oceans and forests.

 'Catastrophic Predicament'
    Another scientist, Dr. Piers Forster of the University of Reading, told the paper any change in the rate of CO2 increase would be "very significant."
    "It will be of enormous concern, because it will imply that all our global warming predictions for the next 100 years or so will have to be redone.
   "If the higher rate of increase continues, things will get very much worse. It will make our predicament even more catastrophic."
   The warnings follow last month's speech by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said urgent action was needed to combat global warming, the world's "greatest environmental challenge".
   He warned the effects of climate change would be felt within a generation unless action was taken now.
   Carbon dioxide is one of the gases that trap heat from the Sun in the Earth's atmosphere. Others include methane and nitrous oxide.
   They are released by modern industry, agriculture and the burning of fossil fuels.
   Without them, the planet would be too cold to sustain life as we know it but most scientists accept an increase in these gases will cause a rise in the Earth's temperature.
   This could lead to an increase in sea levels and flooding due to ice melting, as well as environmental changes.
Information provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation The Guardian and The Independent


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