Since at least 1995 a fear that has been surfacing regularly and leaving some believers short of breath. But is there anything to the belief that oxygen levels on Earth are plummeting at rates that will soon make us all gasp? And what factors involved actually have an effect on oxygen levels in our air?
One of the elements to look into in the case of oxygen depletion in the recent past is to examine the data itself, which would normally seem a reasonable endeavor. The NOAA has gathered a considerable amount of data on carbon dioxide levels and their increase in the atmosphere after studying carbon dioxide levels and come to the conclusion that the ratio of carbon dioxide to oxygen has increased worldwide, and in correlation the oxygen levels have not increased significantly. It’s assumed by many who simply look at the data that carbon dioxide is a poisonous gas that could ultimately destroy life on Earth, but carbon dioxide is actually what plants use to breath. This is not to say a significant increase in carbon dioxide levels is doing a service to all ecosystems all around the world, but an increase can be seen as actually important for some plant life in order to survive. But is the drop in oxygen significant?
No, say many scientists who are studying the decrease who say that the levels are measured not in the percent but rather in the parts per million. Analysis of carbon emissions has largely seen a drop in oxygen of 20 parts per million annually. The difference from year to year means that perhaps in 2,000 years this could have a significant effect on oxygen, but in the mean time you will notice more of a difference driving up a mountain than you will in the next few hundred years at current emission levels.
But can oxygen levels be dismissed entirely? No, say ecologists who suggest that in the vast ecosystems of Earth we must look not only at the needs for human consumption but at the incredibly delicate needs of other species that make up the base of a food chain that ultimately effects humans whether directly or indirectly. Areas of most importance in this respect are the oceans which must often be looked at in ways similar to the ecosystems of dry land. But in the early stages of human development it must be discovered whether human interaction has the far reaching consequences we fear or not, and many elements of this scientific field are too early in their development to really be able to tell one way or another.
So when you hear that oxygen levels are decreasing at alarming rates, should you be worried? In the short term there’s very little evidence that the effects of these differences will be seen in our lifetime. But it’s all a matter of goals. Will we eventually see an Earth deeply affected by oxygen depletion? The answer becomes a disturbing possibility.