Charles Keeling (1928-2005) and NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory


(music) (music) So back in the late nineteen fifties my father, Dave Keeling, was asked to
make measurements of carbon dioxide at various places around the world.
Among the places of great interest was near the top of
Mauna Loa, where you had access to very clean air. An analyzer was installed and it
showed, even within one year, it showed this amazing
cycle, and that related to the growth of land plants in the summer time and
this sort of release of carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere
the other times of the year. But over years it basically increased over time, and it
documented as well as any record we have the the human impact on the planet through
rising carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the most abundant most important man-made
greenhouse gas. Its rise in the atmosphere means that
it’s going to be getting warmer in the future, and it is probably already warm because of
the rise in the past. And this record showing rising co2 tells
me – tells us where we are in that process. It’s mostly not good news. It keeps going
up year by year, and that should be a concern because it
means that we’re slipping into some kind of new world. We don’t quite know
where we’re headed, but it definitely holds big changes for
humanity as a whole. So even in the early stages when my
father was starting this up he wasn’t doing it single-handedly. He was really doing the measurements at Mauna Loa and
elsewhere in part in a close collaboration with the Weather
Bureau which is has now gotten folded into NOAA. And NOAA’s involvement in this work has
grown over time and includes measurements in many other
sites in addressing a wide array of greenhouse gases and a wide array of issues. My own work is still done in
close collaboration with NOAA so we’re part of
a community that’s working together on this. Now the idea of Mauna Loa itself as far as I know didn’t
come from him. There was an officer at the Weather
Bureau named Harry Wexler, who had just started
up the Mauna Loa Observatory was eager to see new activities there. So they formed a kind
of a scientific collaboration partnership that basically helped this
thing forward. The American Chemical Society marking
the Keeling Curve as a National Historical
Chemical Landmark is a great reminder of what was done to get this level
of information that we have, also a reminder of the networks we now
have that have blossomed from Dave’s dream and now provide us information on a grand
scale, and a reminder to society that we are the ones that are changing
the planet. And if we want that to not happen we
have to make changes ourself. If we want that to happen that we have
to be able to adapt to that. But it’s a very important thing. Without CO2 going up, we would probably not be facing the level of
climate change we’re seeing today. Well you know, the Curve is a reminder that every year that goes by we’re
continuing to change the planet. And so it is helpful to have that curve
not just a static thing but as a dynamic thing and
reminding people to hey pay attention. Just keeping track of these
concentrations and the giving the public the – a simple concept to hold onto to keep track of this is
important. This record tells you how well is the global society doing in
reducing greenhouse gases or or in not doing so. (music)

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