Best of our wild blogs: 6 May 13

Latest Green Jobs in Singapore [29 Apr - 5 May 2013]
from Green Business Times

What nature groups are there in Singapore?
from wild shores of singapore

Reflections of My time with Marine Life (Northern Expedition)
from Mega Marine Survey of Singapore

A crab found only in Singapore!
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

Watching Seagrass Grow: Reflections of a Volunteer
from teamseagrass

Flowering Syzygium Trees Part 2
from Beauty of Fauna and Flora in Nature

Mozambique Tilapia
from Monday Morgue

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Studies for Cross Island Line to start

50km Tampines-Jurong MRT route runs deeper underground: LTA
Jermyn Chow Straits Times 6 May 13;

WHILE the Cross Island Line is expected to be ready only in 2030, studies will start at the end of this year to plan for Singapore's most ambitious MRT project yet.

The 50km line runs from Tampines to Jurong, passing through densely built-up areas such as Sin Ming, Hougang, Clementi, and beneath the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment Area.

The LTA is planning well ahead of time because contractors will need to dig deeper underground in land-scarce Singapore for new rail projects.

The pace of construction will also depend on the ground's soil profile, which experts say changes every 2 to 3 metres.

This makes excavation works all the more challenging as the tunnel-boring machines move through different types of rock and soil, said Ms Choo Chai Foong, LTA's deputy director for design development (rail).

Ms Choo, who has been with the LTA for 16 years, said: "As stations get deeper, we must be more careful as there will be more risks and engineering methods need to be adjusted."

The LTA will not want a repeat of the tragedy in April 2004, when a deep excavation at a Circle Line worksite collapsed, killing four workers and causing a section of Nicoll Highway to cave in.

That delayed the progress of the Circle Line by around two years and consequently, the rollout of lines that were to come after it.

But Singapore is not the only city to experience delays in rail projects.

Paris' plan to double its network by building some 200km of new lines took years to be finalised and approved.

New York City's Second Avenue Subway project had been planned since 1929, but only got under way in 2007.

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Don't widen road, say Pasir Panjang residents

Royston Sim Straits Times 6 May 13;

PLANS to widen part of Pasir Panjang Road have met opposition from some residents in a private estate association.

In a letter to Member of Parliament Lim Hng Kiang last week, two of them suggested building more bus bays to ease traffic congestion instead.

They expressed concern that the project would "significantly impact amenity in this peaceful urban enclave" and have an impact on more than 100 mature trees at the roadside.

They also asked Mr Lim, the Minister for Trade and Industry and MP for West Coast GRC, to support their request that the Urban Redevelopment Authority consult Pasir Panjang Private Estate Association residents on the issue before it is implemented.

Mr Nick Jacobs, one of the letter's authors, said any congestion is largely caused by buses stopping along the road. "Traffic can be improved by implementing bus bays," he said. "Widening doesn't necessarily solve the problem. It will encourage more people to use the road."

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced last week that a 3.9km stretch of Pasir Panjang Road and West Coast Road between South Buona Vista Road and West Coast Link will be expanded from one lane each way to two in each direction.

Mr Jacobs, 41, a public relations director, noted that the project includes building a direct link between Science Park Road and West Coast Highway. This removes the need to widen Pasir Panjang Road as much of the traffic in the area comes from Science Park, he added.

Mr Ben Low, an executive committee member of the association who has lived in the area for 25 years, said traffic is mostly light except for between 7.30am and 8.30am, and from 5pm to 7pm. The 63-year-old added: "You don't burn the house just to catch the rat... if more bus bays can be built, there won't be any traffic congestion.

An LTA spokesman said Pasir Panjang Road and West Coast Road serve as the primary means of access to nearby residential estates, offices, eating places, religious facilities and research and educational institutes.

"The traffic plying along this stretch is currently facing constant delay due to obstruction such as buses stopping at the bus stops, vehicles making right turns into developments, as well as other roadside activities."

Widening the stretch to two lanes each way and adding a direct link will increase overall road capacity to meet the anticipated increase in traffic volume from future developments, the spokesman said.

He added that road alignment will minimise the number of trees affected and even more trees will be planted after the works are completed.

Still, residents hope the plan can be rethought. Mr Low said: "Even if they replant the trees, a newly transplanted one is different from a 50-year one."

Stretch of Pasir Panjang Road to be widened by 2017
Royston Sim Straits Times 25 Apr 13;

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) will widen a 3.9km stretch of Pasir Panjang Road and West Coast Road between South Buona Vista Road and West Coast Link to meet an expected increase in traffic in the area.

The stretch of road, which currently has one lane in each direction, will be widened to two lanes each way. The LTA said this will provide additional road capacity to cater to new developments along the West Coast corridor and within Science Park.

A tender will be called in the coming weeks. Widening works are expected to begin in the fourth quarter of this year and completed by the first quarter of 2017. Contractors will erect temporary barriers where possible to minimise noise from construction.

The authorities added that they will acquire some private land along Pasir Panjang Road to widen the road. No buildings however are affected and only areas such as fencing, drains, open spaces and grass verges will be acquired. Landowners that are directly affected will receive an acquisition notice on Thursday.

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Singapore: Aedes mosquitoes immune to some insecticides

Lim Wee Leng Channel NewsAsia 5 May 13;

SINGAPORE: The Environmental Health Institute (EHI) has found that in the last 20 over years, the Aedes mosquitoes have developed resistance to certain active ingredients in some insecticides available on the market.

EHI is a public health laboratory at the National Environment Agency (NEA).

Hence the NEA is advocating source reduction as a primary dengue control measure, meaning getting people to remove sources of places of mosquito breeding.

EHI's Dr Christina Liew said: "NEA only uses fogging for disease control measures, in cluster areas when the number of dengue cases is very high. Otherwise, we do not advocate fogging for normal control measures."

Meanwhile, with the number of dengue cases rising to new highs week after week, some people have armed themselves with insect repellent wipes.

Sales of insect screens also rose some 20 per cent.

But environment health experts say the best prevention is to wipe out all mosquito-breeding spots.

Dr Liew said: "The main dengue vector breeds indoors and is found indoors, so the only really effective measure is indoors ULV fogging. What NEA is now advocating is that if you're in a dengue cluster area, you can use aerosol to spray in dark corners of your homes, where the Aedes mosquito hides, such as behind the sofa, behind the curtains, or in the dark corners of your toilet.

"The chemicals that are available on the market do have very high levels of active ingredient, which are still effective against the mosquitoes. So, with targeted spraying, where you focus actually on finding the mosquitoes, these chemicals are still effective."

- CNA/ir

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Indonesia: Aceh Court Says Cancellation of Plantation Firm’s Permit in Rawa Tripa Illegal

Nurdin Hasan Jakarta Globe 3 May 13;

Banda Aceh. The Banda Aceh Administrative Court on Friday ruled in favor of a palm oil company in its lawsuit against the Aceh governor’s revocation of its permit to clear and operate on a 1,605-hectare land in Rawa Tripa, a lush forest and peatland region in the province’s Nagan Raya district.

Presiding Judge Yusri Arbi said that Aceh Governor Zainal Abdullah’s decision in September 2012 to revoke the permit for plantation firm Kallista Alam, following an order from the Medan High Court, was not legally binding because the court decision was being challenged in the Supreme Court.

Kallista Alam obtained the permit to open the plantation from then Governor Irwandi Yusuf in August 2011. But the governor’s decision was met with protests by environmental activists who said that the area was the habitat of Sumatran orangutans, which are critically endangered, and other rare animals.

The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) dragged the governor to the Aceh state administrative court but the court rejected Walhi’s suit on April 3, 2012. Walhi then appealed the ruling to the Medan High Court. On Aug. 30, 2012, the Medan High Court ordered the governor, now Zainal Abdullah, who was elected in April 2012 , to pull the permit.

The Ministry of Environment and the Attorney General’s Office later filed a case against Kallista Alam for crimes conducted in Rawa Tripa.

Kallista Alam, however, as an affected party, filed an appeal against the Medan court decision with the Supreme Court. At the same time, it filed a lawsuit with the Banda Aceh Administrative Court contesting the revocation of the permit.

The head of the legal bureau for the Aceh government, Edrian, said the government would file an appeal against this latest verdict with the Medan High Court.

“The Aceh government’s stance is clearly to file an appeal because the governor’s decision to revoke the business permit of Kalista Alam was to follow the decision of Medan High Administrative Court,” he told Jakarta Globe on Friday.

“The panel [of judges] should consider the environmental impact created by Kallista and the impact to the residents around Rawa Tripa before deciding to grant their lawsuit. Moreover, Rawa Tripa was once under international spotlight concerning forest burning when clearing the land.”

Edrian claimed that based on investigation of the Aceh government, Kallista Alam’s initial operations had damaged the environment and led to conflicts with residents.

Walhi Aceh director T.M. Zulfikar said the verdict was a set back in the efforts to conserve the peatland and protect the orangutans in Rawa Tripa.

“Walhi Aceh will also file an appeal to the Medan High Administrative Court,” Zulfikar said.

He said that Kallista Alam should not have been able to contest the revocation as the Aceh government had full authority to issue or revoke business permits as part of its extended authority as a special region.

“We hope the Supreme Court will issue a verdict as soon as possible on the appeal filed by Kallista [Alam] so the problem won’t drag on,” he added.

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Indonesia: Sumatran orangutans' rainforest home faces new threat

Angela Dewan AFP Yahoo News 5 May 13;

A baby Sumatran orangutan swings playfully on a branch at an Indonesian rescue centre, a far cry from the terror he endured when his pristine rainforest home was razed to the ground.

Now alarm is growing at a plan activists say will open up new swathes of virgin forest on Sumatra island for commercial exploitation and lay roads through a vital ecosystem, increasing the risk to many endangered species.

The plan, which Aceh authorities say aims to open up a small amount of forest for communities to develop, is set to be approved by Jakarta despite its moves towards extending a national moratorium on new logging permits.

Green groups say such policies illustrate how the ban can be circumvented to open up new areas for deforestation, threatening to boost Indonesia's already high emissions of carbon dioxide.

"This plan is a huge threat to species living in the forest, especially orangutans, tigers and elephants that live in the lowland forests that will likely be cleared first," Ian Singleton of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme told AFP.

Environmentalists warn that some one million hectares (2.5 million acres) -- around the size of Cyprus -- could be opened up in Aceh province for exploitation by mining, palm oil and paper companies. Officials dispute that figure.

There are particular fears about part of the project which would lay roads through the Leuser ecosystem, an area of stunning beauty where peat swamp and dense forest surround waterfalls and mountains poking through clouds.

The area, mostly in Aceh, is home to around 5,800 of the remaining 6,600 critically endangered Sumatran orangutans as well as elephants, bears and snakes including King Cobras.

Singleton warns that cases like that of the baby ape, rescued from Leuser, would rise dramatically if the road project goes ahead, as orangutan populations need long, uninterrupted stretches of forest to survive.

Named Gokong Puntung after the Chinese monkey god, the young ape had been living in an area where several companies cleared the land despite the tough protection it was supposed to have been afforded.

The primate was left stranded and clinging to his mother in a lone tree with no others to swing to. His mother was beaten by a group of passing men, and the baby was sold to a plantation worker for $10.

He was rescued in February and taken to the centre run by Singleton's group across the Aceh border in Sibolangit district, North Sumatra province.

"Genetic experts say you need 250 to 500 orangutans minimum to have a population that's viable in the long term without too many bad inbreeding effects," said Singleton.

"We've only got about six of those populations left, and every time you put a road through the middle of one, you effectively cut it in half."

Aceh forestry department planning chief Saminuddin B. Tou insists the roads will help link remote communities to the outside world -- although activists say there are few buildings in the area and the network mainly helps big companies with access.

Jakarta has signalled it will sign off on Aceh's plan in the coming weeks, even as it is expected to extend the moratorium on new logging permits which expires on May 20 and has been in force for two years.

There is also strong support in the Aceh parliament which has the final say, and officials say they hope it will pass soon.

Although it seems to fly in the face of the national moratorium, the project is possible because it hinges on Aceh's decision to overturn its own deforestation ban which was introduced at the local level six years ago.

The ban, stronger than the national measure, was brought in by the previous local administration -- but it will be scrapped under the plan.

Environmentalists say it is one of the more glaring examples of how officials are using a murky web of local laws and technical explanation to push through new deforestation in defiance of the national moratorium.

"Companies and local governments have found all sorts of ways to get around the ban," Friends of the Earth forest campaigner Zenzi Suhadi said.

However, the head of the Aceh forestry department, Husaini Syamaun, said in a statement that the plan "was not aimed at the development of mines and plantations" and did not break any laws.

The administration insists it will only free up around 200,000 hectares of new forest for exploitation.

But in reality a much larger area will be opened up, activists say.

Prior to the local ban, many mining and palm oil companies were granted concessions to chop down virgin rainforest in Aceh, but they had to freeze their activities when the province's moratorium came in.

Officials argue that the plan will simply "reactivate" these areas of forest that had been open for logging in the past, so do not include them in their calculations.

Tou also insisted most of the project was an "administrative change" as a lot of forest had in reality been cleared by local communities already. "It's not still virgin forest, it's already been converted by the people," he said.

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Indonesia: 2,000 Smuggled Turtle Eggs Seized in Balikpapan

Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Jakarta Globe 4 May 13;

Balikpapan, East Kalimantan. About 2,000 eggs from turtles on the verge of extinction in Southeast Sulawesi have been seized by port security in East Kalimantan after they were sent via passenger boat and addressed to a person in Samarinda.

Police in Balikpapan seized the eggs, trading in which is illegal, and have detained one person who picked up the delivery. They are questioning the person in a bid to learn more about the sender of the eggs, which came from Bau Bau.

“In the past, the owners would take [the eggs] themselves from Bau Bau by boat. Now that security is very strict they [decide to] send them. A courier would pick them up at the port,” Sitohang, chief of the port security unit, said on Friday.

Sitohang said he had sent an investigating team and was cooperating with the Bau Bau Police to find the sender of the turtle eggs, adding that this was the first case this year.

“There were five cases and three suspects last year. All of them have been jailed in accordance to Law No. 5/1990 on the conservation of natural resources and the ecosystem, which carries a five-year prison sentence and a fine up to Rp 100 million [$10,300],” he said.

Danang Anggoro, an official at East Kalimantan’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), said that Samarinda had become the second biggest market in East Kalimantan for turtle eggs after Berau, because the turtle eggs there are sold for Rp 10,000 each while in Bau Bau three turtle eggs sell for only Rp 1,000.

“The expensive price has led to a rampant delivery of the eggs from Bau Bau. Last year alone, we seized 7,000 eggs from Bau Bau that entered the Semayang port [in East Kalimantan] ,” Danang said.

In anticipating the smuggling of turtle eggs, Southeast Sulawesi BKSDA has coordinated with police to tighten security on several islands and to conduct raids on turtle egg traders in Samarinda.

Turtle egg traders are still found in several areas in Samarinda, although trading of turtle eggs has been banned.

“There are still people selling them. Last April we arrested six turtle eggs traders who mostly came from Bau Bau. There aren’t that many from Berau any more,” he said.
Danang urged a halt to consumption of turtle eggs because turtles are protected by the national and international laws and are on the verge of extinction.

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The Threat To Indonesia's Biodiversity, Foretold In The 1800s

NPR 5 May 13;

British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was not only a key figure in developing the theory of evolution in the mid-19th century but also had the foresight to call for saving endangered species.

Wallace, who died 100 years ago this year, did his most important research in the rich biodiversity of Indonesia, and his plea for preservation is even more compelling than when he wrote it.

From my base in Jakarta, I can just step outside my home to observe the spectacle of life in overdrive that attracted Wallace.

OK, it's downtown Jakarta, so there are no rhinos or orangutans. Still, just outside my door, bugs flit, swarm and crawl in great abundance, and predators — birds, bats, toads and geckos — dart, swoop and pounce at them, and appear quite plump and well-nourished as a result.

But sadly, part of the story is the destruction of the natural abundance that Wallace noticed here.

I was shocked to discover on a reporting trip two years ago that more than 90 percent of the world's oldest virgin rainforests in Indonesian Borneo have been cleared to make way for, among other things, palm oil plantations.

The Modern Debate Over Evolution

While there may be a consensus among scientists about Wallace's and Charles Darwin's theories, it is worth noting a last year that found that only 15 percent of Americans believe in any form of evolution that is not guided by God. suggest that the theory of evolution is more widely accepted in other Western countries.

Reading and thinking about Wallace has given me some new perspectives on my own work. It occurs to me, for example, that to discern the difference between two things, it helps to look at the seam or point of transition from one thing to the next.

The Indonesian archipelago is just such a transitional zone between the Asian, Pacific and Australian regions.

The news focus has always been more on Indochina than on maritime Southeast Asia. Despite the archipelago's great natural and human diversity, media have tended to ignore it, except for natural disasters and terrorist attacks. But the balance appears to be shifting in favor of Indonesia, which is Southeast Asia's largest economy.

The more I travel for reporting, the more I see how Wallace's ideas about biogeography also apply to humans.

In one country after another, I have looked at people's faces, food, language, music, and seen how each group transitions into the next one on a map, and how those who have migrated over the course of history have adapted to new environments.

Boundless Diversity

On one level, the biodiversity that enabled Wallace's discoveries implies the infinite variety of life — if not infinite in the number of species, then at least beyond our current ability to identify them all.

At the same time, biodiversity is a mechanism to ensure the survival of life on Earth as a single entity. The simultaneous diversity and unity of life is reflected in Indonesia's national motto, "unity in diversity." Or, as we would say, "out of many, one" — e pluribus unum.

Wallace's skill at this kind of observation reminds me of a passage in the ancient Chinese Taoist classic, the Dao De Jing:

"The ten thousand things — side-by-side they arise;

And by this I see their return.

Things come forth in great numbers;

Each one returns to its root."

So it seems that the man some describe as the last great Victorian had some interests in common with ancient Chinese philosophers. They seem to have shared ideas about the importance of observing nature as the key to perceiving the laws of the universe and advancing human knowledge.

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As honey bee numbers drop, U.S. sees threat to food supply

Ian Simpson PlanetArk 3 May 13;

Honey bees, which play a key role in pollinating a wide variety of food crops, are in sharp decline in the United States, due to parasites, disease and pesticides, said a federal report released on Thursday.

Genetics and poor nutrition are also hurting the species, which help farmers produce crops worth some $20 billion to $30 billion a year.

Honey bee colonies have been dying and the number of colonies has more than halved since 1947, said the report by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agriculture Department.

The decline raises doubt about whether honey bees can fulfill their crucial role in pollinating crops that play a role in about one-third of all food and beverages sold in the United States, the report said.

"Overall losses continue to be high and pose a serious threat to meeting the pollination service demands for several commercial crops," the report said.

Pollination demands have increased so much in recent years that California's almond crop alone requires 60 percent of all managed colonies devoted to pollination -- rather than honey or beeswax production.

The United States is not alone in facing this concern: The European Union moved on Monday to protect its own falling bee population by banning three of the world's most widely used pesticides for two years.

The Varroa mite, a parasite first found in the United States in 1987, is the single biggest cause of colony loss in the United States and other countries, the report said.

Another main concern is the effect of pesticides on bee colonies. More research is needed to find out how much pesticide exposure bees get and their effects, the U.S. report said.

U.S. honey bees also lack genetic diversity, the result of many colonies being descended from fewer than 600 queens. That lack of diversity limits bees' ability to develop resistance to new diseases and to develop productive worker bees.

The report also found modern weed control methods, which result in large fields with a single crop, has hurt bees by limiting the range of nutrients in their diet, compared with past decades when bees had access to a wider array of plant foods in a smaller range.

The report is the result of a conference the EPA and Agriculture Department held in October 2012. Its findings will be the basis for a revision of a federal plan to combat the decline in honey bees.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Bob Burgdorfer)

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Low-key U.S. plan for each nation to set climate goals wins ground

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 3 May 13;

A U.S.-led plan to let all countries set their own goals for fighting climate change is gaining grudging support at U.N. talks, even though the current level of pledges is far too low to limit rising temperatures substantially.

The approach, being discussed this week at 160-nation talks in Bonn, Germany, would mean abandoning the blueprint of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set central goals for industrialized countries to cut emissions by 2012 and then let each work out national implementation.

Attempts to agree a successor to Kyoto have foundered above all on a failure to agree on the contribution that developing countries should make to curbing the industrial emissions responsible for global warming - greenhouse gases. The next ministerial conference to try to reach a deal is scheduled for Paris in 2015.

The United States, recently overtaken by China as the world's biggest carbon polluter, never ratified Kyoto because it set no binding emissions cuts for rapidly growing economies such as China and India.

President Barack Obama's administration now says each nation should define its "contribution" to a new U.N. accord - a weaker word than past U.S. demands for national "commitments".


Elliot Diringer, executive director of a Washington-based think-tank, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said there was "a growing acceptance of nationally defined approaches, with a big 'But'".

Trigg Talley, head of the U.S. delegation, noted that the agreement "will need to be applicable to all".

And even if all countries agree to participate, all sides say the initial national promises will be insufficient to rein in greenhouse gases, which are rising by about 3 percent a year even though economic growth is weak in many regions.

Under the U.S. plan, contributions might be submitted 6 months before the Paris summit, giving some time for a non-binding review to strengthen plans. The pact is due to enter into force from 2020.

Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said it was already clear that promised emissions cuts would fall short of the level needed to prevent the global temperature rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Temperatures are already up by about 0.8 degree C (1.4F).

"The challenge for the 2015 agreement is precisely to bridge that gap," she said. "The process is not on track with respect to the demands of science."

International scientists say it is highly likely that high levels of greenhouse gases are already changing the climate and that it is at least 90 percent probable that human activities are the main cause.

In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organization said on Thursday that 2012 was the ninth warmest year since records began in the 19th century. Among extremes, Arctic sea ice shrank to a record low and Superstorm Sandy battered the United States.


Many emerging nations are still holding out in Bonn for binding common targets, especially for rich countries. But securing a bigger role by the United States might mean accepting a relatively weak accord in 2015.

Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute think-tank said the negotiation process was a "dance".

"People want to make sure the United States is in, but many are deeply worried about what that may mean," she said.

The United States and China did agree last month to work more closely together on climate change, saying they hoped it would inspire action by others. Many delegates welcomed the plan, but said the two emitters have not led in the past.

"We have to see the developed countries taking the lead," Brazil's delegate Andre Correa do Lago said. "This need - I'm not hearing here."

Ronald Jumeau of the Seychelles, a spokesman for the 44-nation Alliance of Small Island States where many low-lying atolls fear they will be swamped by rising sea levels, said pledges so far were "woefully inadequate".

Japan, Canada and Russia have dropped out of the Kyoto accord this year, leaving a dwindling core of countries led by the European Union and Australia.

But a collapse in carbon dioxide prices on a European Union market has weakened EU leadership on climate change.

(Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Greenhouse Gas to Reach 3-Million-Year High

Stephanie Pappas Yahoo News 3 May 13;

The proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is set to break 400 parts per million this month, levels not seen in 3 million years, according to one of the best climate records available.

The Keeling Curve, a daily record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, has been running continuously since March 1958, when a carbon dioxide monitor was installed at Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. On its first day, the observatory measured a carbon dioxide concentration of 313 parts per million (ppm). That number means there were 313 molecules of carbon dioxide in the air for every 1 million air molecules.

The number continued to climb through May 1958 and then slowly started to drop, reaching a minimum in October that year. This maximum-minimum pattern, repeated seasonally, reveals how trees withdraw carbon dioxide from the air in summer to grow and then release it through dead, decaying leaves and wood in the winter.

Upward creep

But humans release carbon dioxide into the air, too, by burning fossil fuels. This activity has caused the Keeling Curve to creep ever upward since 1958: The lows get a little higher each year, as do the highs. [The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted]

Because carbon dioxide typically peaks in May, researchers are expecting the Keeling Curve to break a milestone of 400 ppm this year. (If not, the number will almost certainly be reached in May 2014.) As of May 1 of this year, the last day data was available, the Mauna Loa observatory recorded 399.39 ppm of carbon dioxide in the air.

There will be no huge atmospheric or climatic shift once carbon dioxide hits 400 ppm, but the milestone has symbolic significance, said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

"It is a reminder of just how uncontrolled this dangerous experiment we're playing with the planet really is," Mann told LiveScience.

What 400 ppm means

In the 1,000 years that occurred before the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, atmospheric carbon dioxide held steady at around 270 to 280 parts per million.

Scientists believe that the most recent period to reach 400 ppm was the Pliocene Epoch, between 5 million and 3 million years ago, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which keeps track of the Keeling Curve.

Back then, it was a different world. Global average temperatures during the period were between 5.4 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (3 to 4 degrees Celsius) higher than today, and sea level was as much as 131 feet (40 meters) higher in some places. Even the least-affected regions saw sea levels 16 feet (5 meters) higher than today's.

A major difference between then and now, though, is the speed at which carbon dioxide is rising today. Typically, in the last 40 to 50 years, the Keeling Curve shows increases of 2 to 2.5 ppm a year, Mann said. In the 1950s and 1960s, carbon dioxide increased by less than 1 ppm each year, according to Scripps.

"We're on course for more than 450 ppm in a matter of decades if we don't get our fossil fuel emissions under control quite soon," Mann said.

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