Vulcano takes Mauna Loa carbon monitoring station offline

The eruption of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano temporarily cut power to the world’s foremost station that measures heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but officials said Wednesday that won’t be a problem.

There are hundreds of other carbon dioxide monitoring sites around the world. The federal government is looking for a temporary alternate site on the Hawaiian island and is considering flying a generator to the Mauna Loa observatory to recover power so it can resume measurements, officials at the National’s Global Monitoring Lab said. Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Colorado which operates the station.

The Hawaiian station dates back to 1958 and is the main site of the famous Keeling Curve which shows the rise in carbon dioxide levels from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas as temperatures rise. Carbon dioxide levels on Mauna Loa have increased 33% since 1958.

The station at 11,300 feet (3,444 meters) high, has a 131-foot (40-meter) tower that collects air to measure levels of carbon dioxide, radiation, and other materials. Though the lava flow isn’t near the station, it has severed power lines further down the mountain, officials said.

“This is kind of our flagship station,” said Colm Sweeney, associate director of the monitoring lab. “Mauna Loa’s scientific value really lies in what it represents. It’s also one of the cleanest signals we have.”

That’s because it sits on a mountain away from heavy populations and vegetation and is so tall it’s like “finger-pointing” to measure levels in the troposphere without contamination from local activities, said Ariel Stein, the laboratory director of monitoring.

There are more than 300 stations worldwide, more than 70 of which are operated by NOAA, so global measurement of greenhouse gases will continue, Sweeney said.

During Mauna Loa’s 1984 eruption, the station was put out of action for 36 days, but global monitoring continued and long-term records are still complete, Sweeney said.

Sweeney and Stein said this eruption of Mauna Loa is unlikely to change global temperatures much, unlike the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. Massive eruptions like Pinatubo’s can carry enough sulfate aerosols high into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight and temporarily cool global temperatures.

The Mauna Loa eruption does not currently appear to be emitting enough aerosols and its carbon dioxide emissions are nothing compared to the burning of fossil fuels, they said.


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