Mauna Loa eruption
Aerial view of the eruption on Mauna Loa. USGS photo via Reuters

The equipment that tracks the Scripps Institution of Oceanography‘s authoritative record of the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has lost power because of the eruption of Mauna Loa.

The world’s largest active volcano erupted late Sunday Hawaiian time after weeks of heightened internal activity.

The eruption threatens the continuous measurements behind the Keeling Curve record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which began at the site in 1958.

Scripps geoscientist Ralph Keeling, son of Keeling Curve creator Charles David Keeling, described the outlook for the future carbon dioxide readings from the station as “very troubling.” 

“It’s a big eruption and it’s in a bad place,” said Keeling.

Scripps officials are exploring relocation of the equipment

The Keeling Curve is considered an icon of scientific evidence that human activities are altering the planet’s climate. It has provided incontrovertible evidence that the amount of carbon dioxide has risen far above any levels experienced on Earth for at least three million years.

Additional study has shown that the only plausible cause of the warming caused by the increase in concentrations of that gas is the use of fossil fuels by society.

The authority of the program’s measurement of carbon dioxide for more than 60 years has been bolstered by its virtually uninterrupted record.

Charles David Keeling initially selected Mauna Loa as the ideal location for carbon dioxide measurement because of the distance of the big island of Hawaii from other major land masses and because the landscape of the mountaintop, filled with volcanic rock but no vegetation, would not allow contamination from the photosynthetic activity of local plants.

The record was suspended for more than a month in 1984 when another Mauna Loa eruption cut off power.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.