Carbon monoxide is most notorious for the potentially lethal side effects it can have in buildings with defective appliances and poor ventilation, but levels of this colorless, odorless gas may be on the decline.
Historically, about 430 people have died in the U.S. each year from carbon monoxide poisoning. The gas can interrupt the transport of oxygen by blood, resulting in potentially deadly heart and health concerns. Carbon monoxide also impacts the formation of the tropospheric ozone — another air pollutant with dangerous side effects.
Additionally, while it doesn’t’t directly influence climate change, its presence affects many greenhouse gases, including methane and carbon dioxide.
Carbon Monoxide Levels Appear to Be Falling
Carbon monoxide concentrations have decreased since 2000, according to Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) — a sensor on the Terra satellite. This decline is prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere. Most air quality experts believe this drop is the result of technological and regulatory innovations, meaning vehicles and industries are causing lower levels of pollution than in the past.
MOPITT recorded a slight decrease of carbon monoxide levels over China and India. However, satellites and emissions inventories have revealed that levels of pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide have increased over the same time period.
Things are also looking good for the Southern Hemisphere. Deforestation and agricultural fires are the leading source of carbon monoxide in this area, but MOPITT has logged a slight drop in carbon monoxide. Other satellites have recorded a decrease in the number of small fires and burned areas since 2005, suggesting a decrease in deforestation.
Researchers noted that carbon monoxide is trending downward in general, but several highs and lows have been noted. For example, levels increased from around 2002 to 2003, which some researchers point to an unusually active fire season in Russia’s boreal forests. Similarly, the drop in carbon monoxide emissions from 2007 to 2009 also coincides with a decrease in global fire emissions. Additionally, this drop overlaps with the global financial crisis that began in late 2008, causing a decrease in global manufacturing production.
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