Unexpectedly Intriguing!
15 December 2022

After cooling in October 2022, Earth's economy picked up somewhat in November 2022. That rebound however hasn't risen above the recent peak set at the end of 2022-Q3.

That's the latest assessment of the state of the world's economy as measured on the side of an erupting volcano in Hawaii. More specifically, the Mauna Loa Observatory's measurements of the changing concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere that are linked to human activities give us the following picture through November 2022.

Trailing Twelve Month Average of Year-Over-Year Change in Parts per Million of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, January 2000 - November 2022

With the Mauna Loa volcano erupting, we wondered what kind of impact that might have on the observatory's measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide. According to the observatory, there's very little-to-none, because they can easily account for it:

Most of the time, the observatory experiences “baseline” conditions and measures clean air which has been over the Pacific Ocean for days or weeks. We know this because the CO2 analyzer usually gives a very steady reading which varies by less than 3/10 of a part per million (ppm) from hour to hour. These are the conditions we use to calculate the monthly averages that go into the famous 50-year graph of atmospheric CO2 concentration.

We only detect volcanic CO2 from the Mauna Loa summit late at night at times when the regional winds are light and southerly. Under these conditions, a temperature inversion forms above the ground, and the volcanic emissions are trapped near the surface and travel down our side of the mountain slope. When the volcanic emissions arrive at the observatory, the CO2 analyzer readings increase by several parts per million, and the measured amounts become highly variable for periods of several minutes to a few hours. In the last decade, this has occurred on about 15% of nights between midnight and 6 a.m.

These periods of elevated and variable CO2 levels are so different from the typical measurements that is easy to remove them from the final data set using a simple mathematical “filter.”

NOAA’s Earth Science Research Laboratory program also measures CO2 in weekly flask samples taken at over 60 remote locations around the world. The Mauna Loa Observatory baseline CO2 concentrations agree very well with flask measurements taken at a similar latitude around the world, which confirms that the volcanic CO2 does not affect our final results.

We use those final results in our methodology for evaluating the relative health of the global economy, which means our assessment isn't affected by the erupting volcano just around the corner from where those CO₂ measurements are taken.

Speaking of which, here is livestream from the U.S. Geological Survey's web cam set up to monitor the eruption, which lets us close with the closest we can get to a bang for what's otherwise pretty dry analysis....

The USGS reports they've been having intermittent problems with the livestream, so you may be seeing a static video that was recorded shortly before the connection was dropped. It's always a pain to get signal bars out in the middle of nowhere.

References

National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Earth System Research Laboratory. Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 Data. [Text File]. Updated 5 December 2022. Accessed 5 December 2022.

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