An Update on Keeling Curve Funding Support

The last few months have been an interesting time for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego O2 and CO2 programs, as we faced a very challenging budget situation. The central activity of these programs involves making observations of atmospheric CO2 and O2 concentrations that are critical to understanding the state of our planet.   Some of you may have read the letter of appeal that I wrote back in December 2013, and I want to summarize where things now stand.

As background, the Scripps CO2 and O2 programs have been supported over the years almost entirely through a bundle of federal grants, typically each lasting three years or so, with several grants running at one time. This process is haphazard, and its success has rested on showing that our long-term observational efforts fit into the ever-shifting priorities of the federal agencies.  This past year was especially difficult, as several grants came to the end of their funding cycles and the landscape for support within the federal agencies, for a variety of complex reasons, was especially problematic.

Faced with the prospect of shutting down key elements of the program and the loss of critical staff, we made a concerted campaign to patch together enough support to sustain the program through this calendar year.  The hope was that the prospect for federal funding might improve in a year’s time.  We therefore redoubled our efforts to secure all forms of support, not just from federal sources, but also private sources, including turning to crowdsourcing.

So where are things now?  The situation is still very uncertain, but more hopeful.

The crowdsourcing campaign has been successful in terms of raising the sum of $21,529*.  This sum may seem small compared to the total annual operating costs of around $1 million for the O2 and CO2 programs.  Importantly, the attention raised by this effort has paid dividends much larger than actual dollar sum.  I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to everyone who contributed. It has been gratifying to see help come in from people all over the world who understand the value of long-term observations such as the Keeling Curve. It really helps to know that there is a public support base that we can turn to in tough times like we have faced lately. This funding will be used to support key elements of the long-term program.  We have daily needs that range from maintaining the supply of calibration gases in our instruments to Mauna Loa to the analysis of air samples brought into our La Jolla lab from stations ranging from the South Pole to the northernmost point of Alaska.

The greater awareness to the Scripps CO2 and O2 programs has likely played a role in the emergence of new funding opportunities that we are actively pursuing.   We currently have three significant grant proposals pending, two of which are new since December.  If these are successful, the base support for the program may be restored by later this year. Still, we don’t know yet how these are going to turn out, and the immediate funding situation is still very urgent.

Again, thanks for the generous support.  While funding these programs has always been a struggle, they continue to provide groundbreaking insights into how our world is changing and to help shape the discussions of what best can be done about it.  It seems likely that their continuity may increasingly depend on private sources of support in the future.

* current as of July 29, 2014


— Ralph Keeling



How do CO2 levels relate to ice ages and sea-level?

Core of ancient Antarctic ice
An ice core collected by the DISC (Deep Ice Sheet Coring) drill from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

In a recent comment, a reader posted a graphic in which CO2 and sea-level rise appear to be correlated throughout the last 700,000 years. Continue reading How do CO2 levels relate to ice ages and sea-level?