Today on Blogcritics
Home » Culture and Society » Science and Technology » Atmospheric Oxygen Levels Fall As Carbon Dioxide Rises

Atmospheric Oxygen Levels Fall As Carbon Dioxide Rises

Please Share...Tweet about this on Twitter7Share on Facebook0Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn1Pin on Pinterest0Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

According to a study conducted by scientists from the Scripps Institute there is less oxygen in the atmosphere today than there used to be. The ongoing study, which accumulated and interpreted data from NOAA monitoring stations all over the world, has been running from 1989 to the present. It monitored both the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the decline in oxygen. The conclusion of that 20 year study is that, as carbon dioxide (produced primarily by burning fossil fuels) accumulates in the atmosphere, available oxygen is decreasing.

Carbon dioxide seems to be almost the total focus of attention in the climate change model as it exists today. After reviewing the results of this study and talking with Dr. Ralph Keeling (one of the lead scientists on the study), it seemed to me that the consequences of atmospheric oxygen depletion should be included in any discussion of atmospheric change.

In order to make sure that I was interpreting the data correctly I asked Dr. Keeling to clarify a few points. I asked him if the rise in carbon dioxide levels and the decrease in oxygen levels were proportional to each other in the sense that this would indicate that the decrease in atmospheric oxygen was a direct result of the buildup of carbon dioxide. His response:

It is roughly true that the oxygen depletion is equivalent to a displacement by carbon dioxide. But it is not exactly true. First, some of the carbon dioxide produced has been absorbed by the oceans. This process involves inorganic chemical reactions which have no effect on O2. Second, the O2:C combustion ratio of a fossil-fuel depends on the hydrogen content. The ratio varies from about 1.2 for coal, 1.45 for liquid fuels, and 2.0 for natural gas. Taking these factors together, we are losing nearly three O2 molecules for each CO2 molecule that accumulates in the air.

We are losing three oxygen molecules in our atmosphere for each carbon dioxide molecule that is produced when we burn fossil fuels. Studies of ice cores and recent data from direct atmospheric sampling have shown that there has been a 30% increase in carbon dioxide since the beginning of the industrial age. With that in mind I asked Dr. Keeling how much oxygen has been depleted from the atmosphere in that same time frame. He responded that, "A reasonable estimate for how much O2 has been lost since the beginning of the industrial revolution can be based on the estimated loss due to fossil-fuel emissions, which can be calculated from records of the amount of each fuel type burnt and its combustion ratio. Such records are not readily available online, but I have figures handy:

Total loss since start of industrial revolution

  • O2 depletion from fossil-fuel burning through 2004: 35.2 Pmol
  • CO2 depletion from fossil-fuel burning through 2004: 26.3 Pmol

Estimated O2 content of preindustrial atmosphere: 37050 Pmol
1 Pmol = 10^15 mol

"So the total estimated industrial O2 depletion on Jan 1, 2005 would have been (35.3)/(37050)x100 = 0.095% of the preindustrial amount."

"For the past 15 years, we have direct measurements of the decrease. But the observations before 1990 aren't good enough to draw inferences. Hence the estimate based on industrial emissions is about the best we can come up with."

Think about that. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution we have removed .095% of the oxygen in our atmosphere. True, that is only a tenth of one percent of the total supply, but oxygen makes up only 20% of the atmosphere. I looked up safety rules regarding oxygen concentrations and according to OSHA rules on atmospheres in closed environments, "if the oxygen level in such an environment falls below 19.5% it is oxygen deficient, putting occupants of the confined space at risk of losing consciousness and death." What happens if the world's atmospheric levels of oxygen fall to 19.5% or lower? Are we all going to have to carry little blue oxygen tanks with us to survive? Not a pleasant possibility.

Plants and certain bacteria take in carbon dioxide, combine it with water to form glucose and produce oxygen as a byproduct in the photosynthesis reaction. The current increase in carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere indicates that this cycle is no longer in balance. It shows that we have reached the point where the biosphere of the planet can no longer process all of the carbon dioxide that we are producing.

When hydrocarbon fuels such as gasoline are burned in air, gasoline (C8H18) and oxygen (O2) join in an explosive reaction. This reaction releases the energy which we use to propel our vehicles. The two main products of this chemical reaction are carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O). The chemical reaction for the combustion of gasoline (chemical name: isooctane) looks like this:

C8H18 + 12.5 O2 –> 8 CO2 + 9 H2O

This mix of CO2 and H2O vapor are the primary gases which come out of your tailpipe. Interestingly, these two byproducts are also the two things which plants need to take in to produce glucose and release oxygen. As long as the environment is in balance no excess carbon dioxide or water vapor will build up. If the environment cannot absorb the amount of these two gases that we produce on the other hand they would remain in the environment as a measurable surplus. I wondered if this water that was being created by burning hydrocarbons could be contributing to the rise I the planets oceans in a meaningful way.

I asked Dr. Keeling for his opinion on this possibility. He said, "I agree qualitatively with your arguments. Some time ago I also calculated the sea- level rise that would be caused by the water generated as a bi-product of fossil-fuel burning. I got quite a small number. I can make a similar calculation here:

O2 lost into forming water: 35.2 – 26.3 = 8.9 Pmol.
Amount of H2O formed: 8.9×2 = 17.8 Pmol

Volume occupied by water formed:
(17.8×10(15) mol)(18g/mol)/(1000000g/m3) = 3.2×10(11) m3.

Resulting sea-level rise (taking ocean area of 3.6×10(14)m2):
3.2×10(11)/3.6×10(14) = 9×10(-4) m

So the effect is only ~1 millimeter since the industrial revolution. This is small compared to the other factors that have contributed to sea level rise over this period."

In conclusion, it seems that the depletion of atmospheric oxygen will continue until such time as we stop burning hydrocarbons faster than the environment can absorb the byproducts of the reaction and replenish the oxygen. The only solution to this problem is to determine beyond the shadow of a doubt just how much carbon dioxide that our atmosphere and environment in general can absorb and process back into oxygen and then limit our burning of carbon containing fuels so that we stay within that “safe zone” and using non carbon based energy sources to make up for what we can no longer produce via fossil fuels.

The problem with this solution is that, in order to keep our economy cooking along, we need to produce and consume ever increasing amounts of energy and so we can’t stop using fossil fuels, including coal, without a lot of economic pain because there currently are no alternatives in place to pick up the slack. The sequestration of carbon dioxide by pumping it under the ground would only dispose of the carbon dioxide with unknown consequences, but would do nothing to stop the depletion of oxygen from the atmosphere. Dr. Keeling agreed that carbon sequestration would do nothing to stop oxygen depletion but reassured me that "… the O2 loss is too small to be much of a concern."

We currently make estimates of how many years we have left before excess carbon dioxide becomes a bigger problem than it already is but we aren’t really sure of their accuracy. However, to the best of my knowledge, we don’t have estimates of how long it might be, if oxygen continues to be depleted at its current rate, until it might become a problem. After all, while most of us may be willing to wait out the effects of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for a time just to see if we really do get warmer weather and more abundant crops out of the deal; how may of us want to wait and see how little oxygen we can survive on?

Powered by

About Mike Johnston

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    So this is how Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize,huh? Scare tactics can make any passionate Human scream bloody murder.

    “…we need to produce and consume ever increasing amounts of energy and so we can’t stop using fossil fuels, including coal, without a lot of economic pain because there currently are no alternatives in place to pick up the slack.”

    With just a 0.14 second Google search, I found alternative energy resources that could definitely pick up the slack if we decided to abandon the use of coal.

    I can understand & appreciate your article but maybe you should present both sides of the equation,as best as you can, before you make such statements.

  • http://www.myspace.com/enki09 Mike Johnston

    Yes there are plenty of alternative ways to produce electricity. But. How may of them are as cheap, efficient or easy to operate as what we have now? If consumers WANTED alternative energy business would supply the demand. The story was about what is, not what might be.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    “If consumers WANTED alternative energy business would supply the demand.”

    Is that why there is a waiting list to purchase a Toyota Prius or the fact that Toyota has developed a whole line of their popular vehicles as “Hybrids”. Bio-fuels are influencing the way some American manufacturers are building cars & the electric car has already been proven an economic & reliable alternative.

    Is that why Solar technology is now used in many homes to cut down on utility bills & state governments actually give people money towards the purchase & installation of solar panels.
    Solar technology is even used in my Casio watch so I don’t have to replace the battery for 40+ years.

    If you haven’t noticed, it takes consumers who want it to purchase it then the price goes down for everyone & that translates to what kind of decisions will be made by these large corporations but it is harder for that to happen when people are reporting inaccurately.

    Again, I think you need to do alittle more research and include all sides of the story instead of this “Chicken Little” approach…

  • http://www.myspace.com/enki09 Mike Johnston

    Is that why there is a waiting list to purchase a Toyota Prius or the fact that Toyota has developed a whole line of their popular vehicles as “Hybrids”. Bio-fuels are influencing the way some American manufacturers are building cars & the electric car has already been proven an economic & reliable alternative.

    Those are great to the extent of the impact they can have. How many cars are manufactured and sold worldwide each year? How many older cars are on the road? And compare that to how many hybrid or prius vehicles are sold each year. Then factor in all of the jet aircraft, diesel locomotives, ships and tractor trailers worldwide and you see what I mean about the impact of alternatives being very small.

    Is that why Solar technology is now used in many homes to cut down on utility bills & state governments actually give people money towards the purchase & installation of solar panels.

    Would the majority of homeowners buy solar panels without government funding? No. Are the majority of homeowners buying them WITH government funding? No. China is putting a new coal fired power plant on lie every 2 weeks right now.

    Solar technology is even used in my Casio watch so I don’t have to replace the battery for 40+ years.

    I have one to charge my laptop. Most people don’t.

    If you haven’t noticed, it takes consumers who want it to purchase it then the price goes down for everyone & that translates to what kind of decisions will be made by these large corporations but it is harder for that to happen when people are reporting inaccurately.

    I was not inaccurate.

    Again, I think you need to do alittle more research and include all sides of the story instead of this “Chicken Little” approach…

    I have done a lot of research on alternative energy, climate change and this story in particular. I stand by what I said.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    How many cars are manufactured and sold worldwide each year?

    Well, if you “did” your research you wouldn’t have to ask these types of questions because the amount of hybrids versus standards isn’t as far apart as you might think. For example, the month of April(sold): 27,000 Hybrids vs. 33,000 Standard (ofcourse, this is a rough estimate due to geographic location & internet information)

    Then factor in all of the jet aircraft, diesel locomotives, ships and tractor trailers worldwide and you see what I mean about the impact of alternatives being very small.

    Sure, when people (like you) don’t want to report on the huge breakthroughs that countries all over are bringing to the table and have been trying to do since the 70’s. Locomotives can run on MagLev(at high speeds),hell,we’ve figured out how to power a train using cow manure. And so on & so forth…

    If being partial is your primary trait when writing than stick by it:
    we need to produce and consume ever increasing amounts of energy and so we can’t stop using fossil fuels, including coal, without a lot of economic pain because there currently are no alternatives in place to pick up the slack.

    Again, this is not accurate!!

  • http://www.myspace.com/enki09 Mike Johnston

    First off, the focus of the story was atmospheric oxygen depletion; 1) that it is happening and 2) that it is very likely human induced. It wasn’t intended to analyze every point you make except in very general terms.

    Well, if you “did” your research you wouldn’t have to ask these types of questions because the amount of hybrids versus standards isn’t as far apart as you might think. For example, the month of April(sold): 27,000 Hybrids vs. 33,000 Standard (ofcourse, this is a rough estimate due to geographic location & internet information)

    And there are how many million vehicles on the road worldwide? 27,000 vehicles is a very small percentage and even hybrid vehicles burn gasoline, just not as much.

    Sure, when people (like you) don’t want to report on the huge breakthroughs that countries all over are bringing to the table and have been trying to do since the 70’s.

    Yes and the European countries are way ahead of the United States in this respect.

    Locomotives can run on MagLev(at high speeds),hell,we’ve figured out how to power a train using cow manure. And so on & so forth…

    Sure they can but how many trains do? Any yes, methane from poop can run trains or cars or heat your home or even run a full size power plant. Problem is there just isn’t enough poop out there to replace fossil fuels(except perhaps on farms and in Washington…). And besides that methane is just another hydrocarbon fuel and the only way that biologically derived hydrocarbons are any better than petroleum is if you don’t burn more of them than the environment can take in and recycle.

    If being partial is your primary trait when writing than stick by it:
    we need to produce and consume ever increasing amounts of energy and so we can’t stop using fossil fuels, including coal, without a lot of economic pain because there currently are no alternatives in place to pick up the slack.

    Again, this is not accurate!

    Yes it is totally accurate. We currently pump 29 trillion gallons of petroleum a year out of the ground(about 67% of which is turned into fuel). What alternative fuel source is in place now to take over that quantity of fuel? None.

  • seculist

    Some years ago..i read a report that maintained that our global oxygen content has dropped from a norm of 32% to a stunning 15 to 17 %, my numbers..perhaps less, 13 to 14 % of what was 32 %..
    there was mention of an imaginary alien visitor to earth.. discovering fossilised remains of mankind piled one upon the other at sea level.. where they perished fighting for a last gasp of air..while all the debate and insults fly.. our planet.. closed system.. is being polluted beyond repair by greedy corporate neo nazis..corporate rule will kill us all.. then what ?
    I would like to know what the current oxygen levels are today and see if we can arrive at a common denominating fact..
    like smokers in denial of cancer we seem to be in denial of asphyxsiation due to our refusal to suffer any economic withdrawal symptoms…
    rather suffer a cancerous painful death from smoking and a high liner life style until we pass out from oxygen depletion..? 50% of people who die in Canada die from pollution related diseases..anyone awake out there ?? Feeling a little sleepy ?
    I’m old and senile, so dont attack me on form or facts.. i admit it has been some time since i read this research article and am not offering a dissertation to the many genius’s out there who seem more interested in bloviating against those who do the work to bring about change and suffer their moronic sit upon their belly acher nit picking assed attacks for it. Put up or shut up Guppusminumus..Cerebrium absentius..more like it.!
    I dont return to read the flame outs..have fun.. park your planet killing cars..stay home..shoot your self..;-)
    Nice work Mike.

  • Andy Zoglman

    I am amazed at the staight line thinking in this article. Never was increasing the plant side of the equation mentioned. Using algae to use up the co2 and then using it to make biofuels.
    Andy Zoglman

  • http://kralizec.wordpress.com/ Kralizec

    So much effort is put into frightening the people with accounts of the dangers of minuscule changes in atmospheric composition, it scarcely seems possible that the decrease in atmospheric oxygen would have been overlooked as a cause of fright, if a case could at all be made. The circumstance that this issue has been left for you and me to discover, suggests that there’s not much to it.

  • comment

    On wiki, I found the atmosphere to contain 20.95% oxygen. In order to drop to 20% the amount of oxygen needs to be reduced by 4.5%. This is 45 times your estimented reduction since the preindustrial era, and still above the 19.5% causing proplems according to OSHA rules.

    If we are indeed losing three O2 molecules for every CO2 molecule produced, such a reduction in oxygen levels by burning fuel will would add 0.95/3=0.32 to CO2 levels. This would result in an increase of 824% of the current CO2 level of 0.0384%.

    This is probably why rising CO2 levels get more attention then reduced O2 levels.

  • Richard

    I’m afraid this post is full of inaccuracies.
    1. We have not removed 0.095% of the Oxygen from the atmosphere. This is the amount we have theoretically consumed due to industrial consumption.

    It does not take into account the Oxygen ADDED by living organisms, who were responsible for our atmospheric oxygen in the first place.

    In “direct” measurements, which are not really direct, over a 10 year period, from 1991 to 2001 one station calculated a total decline of 0.0003%, which means that the living eco-system has not only kept natural oxygen consumption in balance, but for all practical purposes has supported our massive industrial consumption also. Dr Keelings opinion that “the oxygen loss is too small to be much of a concern” is correct.

    2. The worlds oxygen levels are not likely to fall to 19.5% or lower, BUT EVEN IF THEY WERE, you can rest easy, we are not likely to lose consciousness or die. OSH standards for confined spaces do not apply to the open atmosphere. In a confined space, like an underground cave, a well, a submarine or the space station, every breath you take ups the CO2 content of the space, this is not true of the open atmosphere.

    A drop of 19.5% from the current 20.95% represents a 7% drop approximately. Atmospheric pressure falls about 3% for every 1000 ft in altitude. Applying Boyle’s Law at an altitude of a mere 2500 ft the atmospheric oxygen would be less than 19.5% of the amount at sea level and at 2500 ft we feel just fine.

    The Tibetan Plateau has an average height of 15,000 ft. At that altitude the Oxygen levels are a mere 11.5% of that at sea level and humans have adapted there just fine too.

    On Mt Everest at 28,000 ft the O2 levels are are less than 3.5% that at sea level and it has been climbed many times without oxygen.

    Too much oxygen causes fires and shortens ones life – so rest easy it is not all doom and gloom.

  • Michael

    As the article states, the change in the oxygen concentration during human history is essentially unchanged, particularly in context to the planet’s history.

    To put it all in context, there is a nice curve of the oxygen concentration of Earth over that last billion years.

    After the Precambrian, the outgassing of oxygen from the oceans had begun, the oxygen around the beginning of the Cambrian jumped from 3% to 12%, as finally all the oxygen sinks were saturated. During the Silurian and Devonian, plants conquered the land, while the animal kingdom is still almost exclusively limited to the water. This caused a further rapid and continuous increase in oxygen concentration. The during this period, oxygen concentration reached 35%, which is why insects of that period were huge by todays standards. (Insect maximum size is oxygen diffusion limited.) Reptiles amphibians first settled the land at this point as well.

    Massive volcanic activity caused the Permian-Triassic transition which not only knocked the oxygen concentration down to 15%, but also caused the largest mass extinction in the Earth’s history. The oxygen concentration recovered over a long period and by the mid-Jurassic reached 26%, in the Cretaceous probably even 30%. During this period was also when the largest dinosaurs existed.

    The end of the Cretaceous period is represented by an asteroid impact and a climate marked with mass extinctions. 40 million years ago the oxygen content was only 23% and had the current value of 21% before 25 million years.

  • gumshoe2

    According to reports in 2003, the oxygen content was down to 14%..and is dropping. Current C02 is at 387.6% and rising. Get the weather controlling planes OUT of the AIR space, and we MIGHT make it till 2012

  • gina

    what is most worrying is that we are destroying our forest and our ocean environments…thus harming the plant sources that create oxygen for us. It is not just fossil fuel emissions that are messign with the earth, but also habitat destruction and desertification of both land and ocean ecologies. I wonder whether this destruction combined with emissions will create more problems…as the plant and algae engines to absorb CO2 are being destroyed.

  • duncan

    as someone who works, and has worked in confined spaces for the last ten years, i might point out that the safe percentage of oxygen conc. set at 19.5 is not when people keel over, the level needs to drop to 16.5% 19.5% is when the body may start to struggle, if involved in heavy labour. and as has been pointed out this is only in confined spaces, i.e. space were the level of oxygen are directly affected by the persons inside and have a limited open area to replesish the levels.

    and having read most of the american and european legislation on confined spaces/oxegen vol levels, again as part of my work, i am of the opinion they were written by people who really didn’t understand the subject.

    as to the arictile as a whole, interesting, but i tend to agree with the good doctor, the drop in oxygen levels is to small to have agreat bearing.

  • RZ

    The 0.1% decrease in atmospheric oxygen content from the beginning of the industrial revolution up to 2005 (in 250 years or so) stated in this article is just an average estimate… In reality, parts of some dense and polluted cities (in particular located at high altitudes) are already down to 15% of atmospheric oxygen content. The problem is compounded by the fact that some well know city pollutants directly have an additional impact on the capacity of human lungs to smoothly absorb atmospheric oxygen. Hence, the level of people dying from respiratory diseases is globally rising rapidly. Oxygen deprivation also affects brain function and hinders the thought process… and induces violent psychotic behavior…

    Has anyone considered that the atmospheric oxygen depletion problem can only accelerate as we more and more rapidly destroy the major oxygen producers on Earth i.e. rain forests and marine phytoplancton?

    How long do we really have before we start choking to death? The process has already begun in many cities of the world…

    Z

  • caroline rider

    Does someone have a good source, with a complete citation, for what the current level of oxygen in our atmosphere is, on average? Is anyone measuring it on an ongoing basis?

  • http://drdreadful.blogspot.com Dr Dreadful

    The oxygen content of the atmosphere is about 21%. You don’t really need a citation for this – it’s pretty much common knowledge.

    As for whether anyone is monitoring O2 levels: did you not read the article?

  • litesong

    RZ wrote on Jan 17, 2010 at 3:59 pm:
    The 0.1% decrease in atmospheric oxygen content from the beginning of the industrial revolution up to 2005 (in 250 years or so) stated in this article is just an average estimate… In reality, parts of some dense and polluted cities (in particular located at high altitudes) are already down to 15% of atmospheric oxygen content. The problem is compounded by the fact that some well know city pollutants directly have an additional impact on the capacity of human lungs to smoothly absorb atmospheric oxygen. Hence, the level of people dying from respiratory diseases is globally rising rapidly. Oxygen deprivation also affects brain function and hinders the thought process… and induces violent psychotic behavior…

    Has anyone considered that the atmospheric oxygen depletion problem can only accelerate as we more and more rapidly destroy the major oxygen producers on Earth i.e. rain forests and marine phytoplancton?

    How long do we really have before we start choking to death? The process has already begun in many cities of the world…
    ======================
    litesong wrote:
    RZ’s post is one of the few good responses to the article posted long ago in 2007. Oxygen missing in the atmosphere is about 1 part in 200 since the beginning of the industrial age & we have dumped 3 thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand KGs of man-made infra-red energy absorbing CO2 into the atmosphere since that time. Tho our machines are more efficient than machines of the past, we have increased our dumping rate ~2.5 times to 3 thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand KGs per century of man-made infra-red energy absorbing CO2. The countries of India & China plan (set before the current world recession) to build 1+ Megawatt coal burning generators per day(?), & we can expect the oxygen depletion rate to increase to 3+ parts per 200 well before the year 2100.

  • realisticly

    Everyone wants to live longer. Look ahead. the planet is dieing and our children will have to suffer the tragedies of a poisonous atmosphere. It is inevitable. Thanks be to fossil fuels and our endless fight to get somewhere quicker and to be a little bit lazier than before. It’s the human way.

  • Inquiring-a

    Q for you: Is it possible for an action like planting mangroves in Senegal to produce more oxygen impact positively the level of oxygen in let’s say Australia?

  • gordon

    What about development of china and india recalculate!!!!

  • marc

    I love reading the comments to articles as this is where the info is.

    Must be a matter of time in general however…

    We’ve methane to contend with due to the Gulf spill. Who knows what’s really going on with this due to media wipes. I just surfed in from reports on increasing oceanic dead zones (oxygen and not quite related to methane gush).
    But my own sci fi scenario was what if methane etc did saturate large regions – to then get hit with a CME?

    I saw one indirect mention of chemtrails. Of course, this dark technology is tied into others such as Haarp and nanotechnology – for our edification.

    There’s greed… but there are also well planned agendas at work for a particular future. Meaning, this isn’t all due to mere greed, accident and or nature.

    To and I haven’t followed up but have read in various places (P. La Violette, if I got that right) that cosmic rays are becoming an issue. And space (satellite) agencies have had to take measures due to increased solar activity.

    Seems Everything is coming down at once in these times doesn’t it? So let’s not forget about all those underground facilities and Arks around the world. For the elites yet funded by the rabble.

    Kind Regards

  • Peter

    Could this be related to the dead birds in AK? Just made me remember miners bird cages.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    It was Arkansas, not Alaska, and it appears that the birds flew low to avoid New Year fireworks, got confused and started flying into things (and each other).

  • GROW HEMP TO CREATE OXYGEN & OZONE FOR THE PLANET,ABSORB CARBON, HEAL CANCER.PLANT TREES. PRESERVE OUR OCEANS FROM HUMAN GREED;
    MINING,POLLUTION.TOMORROW’S DEAD ZONE.CORPO- RATE RULE IS KILLING OUR FRAGILE ECOSPHERE.

  • TOO MUCH BS TO RECEIVE TRUTH

  • angela bradshaw

    The information presented in this article was extremely informative, but the amount of hair-splitting and nit-picking presented in the various comments is disconcerting. Is it not enough to know that we are depleting our oxygen supply, that this will have a detrimental effect on our health and lives, and that we do have some control over the process, and are capable of stopping or reversing the process. It is also important to note that science will not conquer nature; that the planet will survive but there is a strong probability that if we do not change our destructive, wasteful lifestyles, we, as a species, will assuredly not survive.

  • tom aylward

    The book is called, Oxygen by Nick Lane. He doesn’t mention oxygen depletion; rather, 99.99 % of the oxygen produced by photosynthesis is respired by animals, fungi, and bacteria. The apparent trivial 0.01 % is responsible for all life as we know it. (pg 24). “… even if we succeeded in burning all the coal, oil and gas in the earth’s crust we would only deplete a few percent of atmospheric oxygen. ” ( pg 25). ” Even the most foolhardy destruction of the world’s forests could hardly dint our oxygen supply.”

  • ben mccabe

    What is the geological recycling process for oxygen captured by lava especially mafic lava with high iron content that would suck oxygen out of the atmosphere and trap it as volcanic rock, eventually would it not take all the oxygen out the atmosphere?

  • Phred

    Forget the CO2 and concentrate on the H2O. Eventually the CO2 is returned as O2 to the atmosphere thru photosynthesis, but I know of no natural mechanism that returns the O2 from water. Forget electrolysis, that’s just high school lab stuff. And isn’t water vapour much more ‘effective’ as a green house gas than CO2? When it comes to oxygen depletion shouldn’t the water produced from the burning of hydrocarbons, including methane a bigger problem?

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    It’s just one of an assortment of problems, Phred.

    Speaking of methane, which is also, as you note, a virulent greenhouse gas, a grave concern now is what happens when all the methane currently locked up in Arctic permafrost gets released into the atmosphere as the ground thaws.

  • Michael-ARealEngineer

    “With just a 0.14 second Google search, I found alternative energy resources that could definitely pick up the slack if we decided to abandon the use of coal. ”

    Ha, ha! What are you waiting for? You should have downloaded it and charged up your watch!

    I feel for you buddy, I can google a lot of things that look great, but aren’t real ;)

  • Michael-ARealEngineer

    Phred,

    I hate to say this so bluntly, but photosynthesis IS THE NATURAL PROCESS FOR TURNING H2O INTO O2. Also sugar!

    You’re welcome.

    You seemed quite distressed.

  • Paul Felix Schott

    The day will come when the Japan 9.0 Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 will look like a kitten compared to a Lion when Greenland ice weight is lifted enough. No one will want to be by the North Atlantic Ocean Coast Line that Day. Or large water ways that lead into the North Atlantic Ocean.

    Read well and study on your own after you have read this.

    This is not a game or joke our Sun gives off a Solar Wind all day year round if you live in the State of Alaska you see it in the sky above what a sight it is going through our Earth’s Magnet Polls of the North and the South, North Poll. Its Called the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis.

    The day will come when you will be able to see it all over Earth as in the year 1859 Solar Flare, It was the largest in 500 years. Two Astronomer’s Hodgson and Carrington told the World that the Solar Flare made a Geomagnetic Storm reach Earth in hours not days. Back then it gave new meaning to Reach For The Skies from Telegraph Operators. For hours sparks flew from the key board. Even after the Batteries were disconnected. Nov 3 and 4, 2003 had a X40+ Class Solar Flare.

    Our Sun’s UV Rays will get stronger as each passing day go’s by, read and i will tell you why.

    The Great big forest have be striped from most of the Earth for Greed of Money by the Wicked. The trees our are Main Source of Oxygen on this Plant. The Forest Trees scrubs the Pollution out of the air and makes Oxygen from the rain and dirt that it grows in.

    The Forest Trees do more then just make Oxygen they stop Soil Erosion, just Look at the 1930 Dust Bowl. Greed by our Government taxes led farmers to clear cut all their Forest and farm all the land they were being Tax on. They had to farm it to pay for the Taxes. Why leave the Trees when food crop makes Money. This Did not Help the Depression that effected most all Worldwide. This year 2012 more then 100 million will suffer from Malnutrition and Dehydration. Many will die!

    In the United States of America alone more than 45 Million Americans Received Food Stamps and that number is going up every day every year.

    The Pollution and CO2 Carbon Dioxide go into the Tree Bark as a shield from most bugs so they do not eat the tree.

    Less Forest less Oxygen this is why the moon. That has no Oxygen is very cold on the side with out Sun Light, And hot as ever on the side with Sun Light. Way too cold and too hot to live there. You would need at least 10 times the Energy we use on Earth to even live there and life on the Moon would be very short.

    With no blank of Oxygen to lessen or reduce the Sun’s UV Rays and Solar Wind they are deadly there on our Moon. Every Mt. Climber and Aircraft Pilot knows the higher you go the thinner the Oxygen and colder it gets.

    Just spend a night on a Mt. top above 13,000 feet with no Sun Light and you will see or should i say feel the cold stinging any of your exposed skin. If you are new to Mt. Climbing stay below 10,000Ft. The Astronauts and the Cosmonauts and Fighter Pilots that i have been with for years know this very well, and the Radiation Hazards to humans at High Altitudes.

    Soon the Sun’s Solar Wind and UV rays will be way to strong for most to go out in the Sun Light for even a short time. The Geomagnetic Storm to come and the Bad Weather Storms well you have not seen nothing yet and the Sea Level is Rising the Oceans. Many Millions have been affected by Floods in China and Pakistan just last year. In 2005 Over a Thousand dead in New Orleans flood, and the list going on.

    And there shall be famines, and pestilences, and Earthquakes, in divers places such as was not from the beginning of the Creation.

    The last 30 years On Earth we have broke all high temp records and the temp it is still going up. All the Worlds Ice Glacier are melting at an Accelerating Rate. The Glaciers and Polar Ice Caps store more water than all the Fresh Water Lakes on Earth.

    The Bad Weather Storms now are Babies compared to what is to come.

    They will get even bigger and worse less Oxygen the more UV Rays to the Earth and more Water molecules will evaporate and go up into the Earth’s Atmosphere. Less Oxygen the colder with out sun light and hotter with it.

    The Sky full of more water vapor molecules, more snow in the winter and more Flash Floods in the Summer. All earth will see way more fires and the Deserts are growing larger.

    If every living person on Earth were to Plant A Tree Today we might have a chance.

    The Earth’s Atmosphere Blanket surrounding it protects life on Earth as Our Lord and GOD will all that seek Him.

    Then it is written when the tree is full it is harvest time. All the Earth will someday burn away.

    This is all Foretold in the Bible Read it and may our Lord Bless all that do so.

    The Lord’s Little Helper
    Paul Felix Schott
    [Personal contact info deleted]

    P.S.
    2 Peter 3:10
    But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the Earth and its works will be burned up.

    GOD Bless You and Your Love ones
    Give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ every day.

    Read
    Luke 21:20-22
    Matthew 24: 30-33

  • Azle Hill Beckner

    Oxygen depletion is a serious problem because we cannot live without oxygen. Oxygen is combining with elements that do not release the oxygen under normal conditions. This increases the problem of oxygen depletion.

  • russwayne

    Yes I’m sure 7 billion people breathing in oxygen and breathing out CO2 has no effect either…

  • Rex Remes

    The number one byproduct of burning all these fuels (and even nuclear energy) is … HEAT. Most of the energy that was stored in these fuels is released as heat.

    Couldn’t that be the cause of global warming? Think about it. A house with 1000 candles burning in it will slowly warm up.

    Anyone know (can estimate) the total number of BTUs that have been released by human activity over the past couple hundred years?

  • Michael Langford

    While it is true that the lower OSHA standard is 19.5%, unconsciousness typically occurs at 16%. The author should clean up his facts. Otherwise, he may induce hysteria in some and be dismissed by others.

  • Lori Lathrop

    bottom line? Our “way of LIFE” is not sustainable, – oil may be “cheap” fuel but at what cost? The amount of pollutants in the oxygen we do get to breath is at an all time HIGH!!! Everyone needs to stop talking – get outside and plant a few trees, grow your own food so it doesn’t have to be transported here from mexico, and get out your bike for short trips – you might even loose a little weight and then your body won’t need as much oxygen!

  • DickK

    This article is complete bullshit! This “scientist” must be deriving significant compensation from the GW crowd.

  • Mike

    Carbon Dioxide sequestration??????

  • Rachael Welch

    This happens when we burn fossil fuels? It happens when we inundate the skies with Alum, barium and strontium. All over the world this is going on (chemtrails). Government officials have come forward. See the movie “What in the world are they spraying”. Then you scientists need to figure out what to do. This is the biggest issue facing us today. Time is running out.

  • pablo

    Shame you didnt ask how much of this imbalance was due to deforestation. :(

  • desedwgle

    what about increase in the population using more oxygem.

  • Stijn Anné

    Lots of coal burning doesn’t deplete atmosferic oxygen since the oxygen atoms mostly come from ores and minerals that are reduced with carbonmaterials (eg, steelmaking, aluminum reduction).

  • edward1313

    this scientist should consider politics, he never answers the question, what is the percentage of oxygen today?

  • Bongstar420

    I would think that sequestering CO2 would result in depleting the atmosphere of oxygen unless it is done thorough a photosynthetic like action.

    “Natural” photosynthetic carbon sequestration is mostly accomplished through single celled marine organisms because their dead bodies do not result in atmospheric CO2 at the bottom of the deep sea. Terrestrial photosynthesis results in much closer to 0 net change in CO2 due to saprotrophs and heterotrophs in the soil. If we were going to use terrestrial photosynthesis for Carbon sequestration, then we would likely end up promoting grasslands. However, I would like to note that it might be a good idea to construct floating mangrove ecosystems over the deep sea if you really think lower CO2 levels are desirable (which I’m mostly on the fence about).

  • Pirokobo

    “It shows that we have reached the point where the biosphere of the
    planet can no longer process all of the carbon dioxide that we are
    producing. ”

    The availability of carbon dioxide is a LIMITING factor in plant growth.

    Ever notice how all the talk about CO2 emissions talk about tons not percentages or partial pressures?

    Because our impact on the overall composition of the atmosphere is still only barely measurable, and nowhere near significant enough for plant life to have really noticed.

  • Sarah

    Hey Mike,

    I think the way you’re presenting this data is a bit misleading. Atmospheric oxygen levels have decreased by 0.095% since the industrial revolution, which was 167 years before 2007 (when you posted this article). In order for oxygen levels to drop from 20% of the atmosphere to 19.5% of the atmosphere, this would require a “percent decrease” of 0.5/20=2.5%. If we divide 2.5% by 0.095%, we get 26.3. This means it would take 26.3 times longer than 167 years in order for oxygen levels to drop from 20% of the atmosphere to 19.5% of the atmosphere. 26.3 x 167 = 4392.1 years. So, it wouldn’t but until the year 6232 that we would see oxygen levels near 19.5%. This is a very long time from now, and we would still have plenty of oxygen left.

    -Sarah