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How long dose Carbon Dioxide stay in the atmosphere?


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
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

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