The Keeling Curve: Studies of Atmospheric CO2

National Historic Chemical Landmark

The Keeling Curve (also known as the Mauna Loa Record) will be designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark in 2014 by the American Chemical Society, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Keeling Curve is the foremost record of carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in Earth’s atmosphere and a key data set in global atmospheric and climate science.

In 1958, Charles David Keeling (1928–2005) of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography initiated a research program for the study of atmospheric carbon dioxide at the newly established Mauna Loa Observatory of the U.S. Weather Bureau (now National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). By 1960, Keeling published the results of his research, reporting evidence of Earth’s natural seasonal CO2 oscillations and the annual increase in CO2 as a result of fossil fuel combustion.

Keeling’s dedication to the precise and continuous monitoring of atmospheric CO2 allowed these data to become an unequivocal record of the global rise in carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas and major contributor to climate change. For 40 years, NOAA has maintained a parallel record at Mauna Loa as the anchor of its global network, reinforcing and building upon the findings of Keeling’s research. Both programs continue to this day. Together the data obtained by Scripps and NOAA provide one of the most important scientific linkages between fossil fuel combustion and the rise in global temperatures as a result of the greenhouse effect.

Additional information will be presented on this page as details emerge. Contact the NHCL Program Manager for information.