Changing carbon: Atmospheric measurements
American scientist Charles Keeling began making direct measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in the 1950s. Laboratory analysis of air samples taken over many years showed a steady rising trend in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, superimposed on seasonal variations. The graph displaying this trend is known as the ‘Keeling curve’. Since Keeling’s pioneering measurements, scientists have built up a network of over 100 different sampling locations worldwide and have confirmed Keeling’s initial results, showing an accelerating rise in CO2.
Charles Keeling was the first man to show that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. He pursued research that let him indulge his passion for the outdoors, and in 1958 he started taking air samples at a remote observatory in Hawaii. Each day he’d venture outside and, after holding his breath, fill a specially designed flask with the incoming ocean breeze. The air would be taken back to the lab to measure its carbon dioxide content.
After only a few years, Keeling saw that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was increasing. Despite this discovery, his research funding was stopped. But Keeling continued his measurements and eventually regained financial backing. Thanks to him, scientists have a record of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dating back to 1958.