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Lanzhou University: fossil fuel combustion causes oxygen concentration decline or affects future living environment

In August, 2018, China's top journal Science Bulletin published the research "The global oxygen budget and its future projection" co-authored by Prof. Huang Jianping from LZU School of Atmospheric Sciences and his collaborators. This study systematically studied the oxygen cycle for the first time in the world. It not only quantified the impact of human activities on the long-term changes in global oxygen budget, but also predicted the future changes in oxygen concentration, filling the gap in the understanding of oxygen cycle and opening a new window to climate change research.

The study tells that fossil fuel combustion is the main cause of the decline in oxygen concentration. At present, the total global oxygen consumption has reached 39Gt per year, of which fossil fuel combustion consumes about 25Gt of oxygen per year, but the oxygen production of terrestrial and marine ecosystems is only about 17.8Gt. This fact gives rise to the decrease of oxygen content at a rate of about 21.2 Gt per year, and the atmospheric oxygen concentration drops at a rate of about 4 ppm per year, which is about twice the rate at which the carbon dioxide concentration rises. If proper measures are not taken as soon as possible, atmospheric oxygen will be reduced by about 100 Gt (18 ppm/y) per year by the end of the century. Although the current decline in oxygen concentration has not yet posed a significant threat to human health, the environment we live in and the air we breathe are quietly changing, and human beings are unconsciously consuming the oxygen accumulated in the evolution of billions years. These changes will ultimately threaten the survival of mankind, thus scientific community should take it seriously and study out a response plan as soon as possible.

The research was once funded by the National Natural Science Foundation's Innovation Research Group Project (41521004).


(Translated by Yang fan; proofread by Ren Yanyang; edited by Zhang Yuyuan)