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Abstract

The release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels is significantly altering the carbon cycle by adding to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and in the more rapidly interacting portions of the biosphere and oceans. In order better to assess these changes, the basis for calculating global CO2 emissions is reviewed and new annual values are computed for the period 1800 through 1969. The world average fractions of carbon in coal and lignite, estimated from calorific data, are found to be lower than previously assumed. When account is taken of handling losses and partial diversion to produce petrochemicals, road asphalt, and other non-fuels, the calculated CO2 emissions are further reduced by several percent even after allowing that most unburned materials eventually oxidize to CO2 in the environment. On the other hand, the production of CO2 by kilning of limestone adds 1 to 2% to the annual totals. The cumulative increase in carbon in the short term carbon cycle, owing to man's industrial and domestic activities up to 1970, is estimated to be 1.12 + 0.14 times 1017 g (4.1 + 0.5 times 1017 g CO2), or about 18% of the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere during the late nineteenth century.