Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Carbon Dioxide Duration in Atmosphere
Name: Bill
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 


Question:
How long dose Carbon Dioxide stay in the atmosphere?


Replies:
Bill,

The duration period for carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere is somewhere between 100 and 500 years. Obviously, not all carbon dioxide molecules will stay in the atmosphere that long, but on average the duration may be around 200-300 years. Some scientists believe that it could be longer than that, others believe that the duration is shorter. Presently, there is some uncertainty in those figures.

The most important thing concerning CO2 duration is that its large concentration plus its long duration in the atmosphere make it the most important greenhouse gas after water vapor.

Some other greenhouse gases also have similarly long durations in the atmosphere, but their concentrations are much smaller than CO2 and thus they are less important (but not unimportant) contributors to warming.

Although water vapor is the most effective greenhouse gas, it has a duration in the atmosphere of only 3-7 days and its concentration will likely only increase if atmospheric temperature increases. This is a double whammy that most climate scientists are concerned about. If increasing concentrations of CO2 result in warmer atmospheric temperatures, that will likely result in higher water vapor concentrations in the atmosphere and thus further enhance atmospheric warming, assuming that the increased water vapor concentration does not lead to increased cloudiness (which may reduce warming in some regions of the world, but increase warming in others).

David R. Cook
Meteorologist
Climate Research Section
Environmental Science Division
Argonne National Laboratory


You may find an article "Pumping Up the Surface Air" in the 09 Feb 2007 issue of the journal "Science" of interest. It does not answer your question directly, but could give you some good leads.

Vince Calder


Click here to return to the Weather Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory