How do we know how much carbon is in the atmosphere?



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    The Earth System Research Laboratory at Mauna Loa claims to be an accurate measurement point and representation of global carbon dioxide concentrations. The air here is relatively undisturbed at 3400m. In short, air is taken at this laboratory and is put under infrared absorption assays. Infrared absorption is done by emitting infrared light in an enclosed cylinder. The more carbon dioxide there is, the less infrared light reaches the sensor. The sensor then registers a signal in volts, which is translated into the mole fraction of carbon dioxide in the air. This mole fraction, in parts per million (ppm), is based on the observation that for every 1 million molecules there is a certain fraction that is carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, etc. This mole fraction is what we see as the concentration of carbon dioxide.

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