Ralph Keeling

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Ralph Keeling
Alma materYale University, Harvard University
AwardsRosenstiel Award, Humboldt Research Award
Scientific career
InstitutionsScripps Institution of Oceanography
External video
video icon Ralph Keeling, “The (Ralph) Keeling Curve”, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Ralph Franklin Keeling (born 1959[1]) is a professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He is the Principal Investigator for the Atmospheric Oxygen Research Group at Scripps and is the director of the Scripps CO2 Program,[2] the measurement program behind the Keeling curve, which was started by his father Charles David Keeling in 1958. Ralph Keeling has developed precise instruments and techniques for the measurement of atmospheric oxygen and anthropogenic CO2 in the ocean, and for the analysis of land and ocean carbon sinks.[3]


Ralph Keeling, one of five children of Charles David and Louise (Barthold) Keeling, grew up in Del Mar, California.[4][5] Ralph Keeling received a B.S. in physics from Yale University in 1979. He received a Ph.D. in applied physics from Harvard University in 1988 for developing a novel technique for the accurate measurement of atmospheric oxygen.[6]


Keeling developed his first scientific instrument, a light-gauging interferometer for the accurate measurement of atmospheric oxygen, as part of his Ph.D. research.[6][7] By October 25, 1986, Keeling had developed a working prototype, a stainless steel box about seven feet tall, with a glass front.[8] Inside the box, light beams shine through the gas molecules of air samples. Keeling's interferometer measures the speed of light at different wavelengths and determines the specific composition of the air and its oxygen content based on tiny variations in speed.[8][9] The instrument Keeling developed was able to measure oxygen at a far more precise level than anything previously created, detecting differences of a few molecules per million.[10]

Keeling's Interferometric Oxygen Analyzer has enabled Keeling and many others to study atmospheric composition, the global carbon cycle, ocean biogeochemistry, paleoclimate and climate change.[11] Keeling has collected data since 1989, leading to fundamental discoveries about the carbon cycle. His data indicates that atmospheric oxygen levels are dropping, in a curve that resembles the inverse of the Keeling curve for CO2.[12] However, the rate at which oxygen levels are decreasing is not as great as would be expected given the increase in CO2.[8]

In a "landmark study" in 1996, Keeling demonstrated that land and ocean carbon sinks could be compared by examining the partial pressures of atmospheric oxygen and CO2.[13][14][15] Keeling's data supports the view that the land operates as a major carbon sink. Keeling also discovered that the land, trees and plants are absorbing CO2 at a higher rate than they have in the past. Although the land is releasing millions of tons of CO2 as a result of deforestation, thawing of permafrost, and other global warming-related phenomena, plants are growing faster and taking up more CO2 in response. This trend is not enough to counter rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, but it is slowing their increase.[8]

Keeling is active in studying ocean warming, stratification of the upper ocean, and ocean deoxygenation. Ocean models predict declines in oxygen, and significant deoxygenation has been observed over the last fifty years in both North Pacific and tropical oceans.[16] Keeling has studied Antarctic ice and glacial CO2 with Britton B. Stephens, modeling concentrations of atmospheric CO2 during both glacial and interglacial periods.[17] With Stephens and others, Keeling hypothesizes about oceanographic processes that may have stabilized and destabilized the oceans over time, in particular about possible thermostatic effects of Antarctic ice.[18] He studies Thermohaline circulation and circulation patterns in the Southern Ocean to better understand oceanic warming.[8][19]

Keeling is also involved in monitoring of local emissions over Los Angeles, including methane.[8][20][21]

Keeling is a strong proponent of ongoing measurement of atmospheric factors such as oxygen and carbon dioxide. He has appealed to government and to the public for continued funding to ensure that data continues to be recorded for the Keeling Curve and other scientific measures that monitor the air, land, and oceans.[8][22][23] He is also a proponent of improved monitoring of the oceans.[16]

Awards and honors[edit]

Keeling received the Rosenstiel Award in 1992,[24] was an H. Burr Steinbach Visiting Scholar at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1998,[25] and received the Humboldt Research Award in 2009 in recognition of his career achievements.[26]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Freinkel, Susan (May 14, 2013). "Son of the Keeling Curve's Namesake on What It Means to Reach 400 ppm". On Earth Blog. Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  2. ^ "Scripps CO2 Program". Archived from the original on 2013-05-07. Retrieved 2013-04-10.
  3. ^ Kirkham, M.B. (2011). Elevated carbon dioxide : impacts on soil and plant water relations. Boca Raton: CRC Press. p. 27. ISBN 9781439855041. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  4. ^ "Keeling, Charles David". Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Encyclopedia.com. 2008.
  5. ^ Gillis, Justin (December 21, 2010). "A Scientist, His Work and a Climate Reckoning". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  6. ^ a b Hanley, Charles J. (August 1, 2004). "Studying Global Climate Becomes a Father-Son Pastime". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Keeling, Ralph Franklin (1988). Development of an Interferometric Oxygen Analyzer for Precise Measurement of the Atmospheric 02 Mole Fraction (PDF). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Freinkel, Susan (December 11, 2012). "Air Apparent". On Earth (Winter 2013). Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  9. ^ Kunzig, Robert; Broeker, Wallace (2009). Fixing climate : the story of climate science : and how to stop global warming. London: Green Profile in association with Sort Of Books. ISBN 9781846688706. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  10. ^ Freinkel, Susan (December 11, 2012). "Air Apparent". On Earth (Winter 2013). Retrieved 10 May 2016.
  11. ^ "Ralph Keeling". Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  12. ^ "Keeling Curves". OSS Foundation. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  13. ^ Jacquot, Jeremy (December 4, 2008). "The Ins and Outs of the Global Carbon Cycle Tracking All That Carbon Dioxide Is Harder Than It Looks". Science Progress. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  14. ^ MANNING, ANDREW C.; KEELING, RALPH F. (April 2006). "Global oceanic and land biotic carbon sinks from the Scripps atmospheric oxygen flask sampling network". Tellus B. 58 (2): 95–116. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0889.2006.00175.x.
  15. ^ Keeling, Ralph F.; Piper, Stephen C.; Heimann, Martin (16 May 1996). "Global and hemispheric CO2 sinks deduced from changes in atmospheric O2 concentration". Nature. 381 (6579): 218–221. doi:10.1038/381218a0.
  16. ^ a b Keeling, Ralph F.; Körtzinger, Arne; Gruber, Nicolas (January 2010). "Ocean Deoxygenation in a Warming World". Annual Review of Marine Science. 2 (1): 199–229. doi:10.1146/annurev.marine.010908.163855. PMID 21141663.
  17. ^ Stephens, Britton B.; Keeling, Ralph F. (9 March 2000). "The influence of Antarctic sea ice on glacial–interglacial CO2 variations". Nature. 404 (6774): 171–174. doi:10.1038/35004556. PMID 10724166.
  18. ^ Summerhayes, Colin P. (Oct 19, 2015). Earth's Climate Evolution. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 226, 287. ISBN 978-1118897393.
  19. ^ Keeling, Ralph F.; Visbeck, Martin (July 2011). "On the Linkage between Antarctic Surface Water Stratification and Global Deep-Water Temperature" (PDF). Journal of Climate. 24 (14): 3545–3557. doi:10.1175/2011JCLI3642.1.
  20. ^ Lobet, Ingrid (May 4, 2016). "San Diego County's methane problem visible for first time". Inewssource.org. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  21. ^ Metcalfe, John (March 1, 2013). "NASA Scientists Are Turning LA Into One Big Climate-Change Lab". Mother Jones. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  22. ^ Tollefson, Jeff (20 November 2013). "Budget crunch hits Keeling's curves". Nature. 503 (7476): 321–322. doi:10.1038/503321a. PMID 24256785. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  23. ^ Cushman Jr., John H. (Jan 2, 2014). "Climate Scientist Ralph Keeling Makes Crowdfunding Plea to Back Key Research". Inside Climate News. Retrieved 17 May 2016.
  24. ^ "Rosenstiel Award past recipients". Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science.
  25. ^ "Past H. Burr Steinbach Visiting Scholars". MIT WHOI.
  26. ^ "Scripps Geochemist Wins Research Award". Scripps Institution of Oceanography. June 30, 2009. Retrieved 9 May 2016.