Alarming rise in CO2 concentrations presents continuing global challenge

October 11, 2000

Paul G. Falkowski, a professor at Rutgers' Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS) with a joint appointment to the geology department, is the lead author of an article in the Oct.13 issue of Science that shows that in the course of the last 200 years, humans have significantly altered the global carbon cycle.

Falkowski and his co-authors wrote the article under the auspices of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), which Falkowski co-chaired with fellow author R.J. Scholes of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa. The IGBP Carbon Working Group, established by the United Nations, met in Stockholm in November 1999 to study the impact of human activities on the rate of change in atmospheric CO2. The group examined changes in biogeochemical and climatological processes along with alterations in international carbon and nutrient cycles. Comparing contemporary processes with the 420,000 years prior to the Industrial Revolution, they determined that atmospheric CO2 levels have risen at a rate of some 10 to possibly 100 times faster than at any prior time in the Earth's history.

"As we drift further away from the domain that characterized the preindustrial Earth system, we severely test the limits of our understanding of how the Earth system will respond," write the article's authors.

"We appear to be fated to continue the increase in CO2 in the biosphere unless governments come to terms with new technologies. Human beings are ultimately responsible for their own fate," says Falkowski.
Yair Rosenthal, assistant research professor at IMCS, was also a member of the IGBP and a co-author of the article.

Falkowski is available for interviews at (732) 932-6555, extension 370.

Rutgers University

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