Methane concentrations are rising and scientists don’t know why

Levels of methane in our atmosphere are rising and scientists haven’t yet been able to pinpoint the cause. And while scientists love a good mystery this particular one is pretty starting considering that methane is a potent greenhouse gas. As the LA Times reported, twenty years ago the level of methane in the atmosphere stopped increasing, giving humanity a bit of a break when it came to slowing climate change. But the concentration started rising again in 2007 — and it’s been picking up the pace over the last four years, according to new research.

Phys also explained that methane is produced when dead stuff breaks down without much oxygen around. In nature, it seeps out of waterlogged wetlands, peat bogs and sediments as well as from forest fires. In addition:

  • Human activities churn out about half of all methane emissions.
  • Leaks from fossil fuel operations are a big source, as is agriculture—particularly raising cattle, which produce methane in their guts.
  • Even the heaps of waste that rot in landfills produce the gas.
  • The atmosphere contains far less methane than carbon dioxide. But methane is so good at trapping heat that one ton of the gas causes 32 times as much warming as one ton of CO2 over the course of a century.

Why This Matters: Euan Nisbet, an Earth scientist at Royal Holloway, University of London, and lead author of a recent study reporting that the growth of atmospheric methane is accelerating doesn’t yet know why there’s such an uptick in methane. Some molecules of methane weigh more than others, because some atoms of carbon and hydrogen are heavier than others. And Nisbet’s research has found that lately, the average weight of methane in the atmosphere has been getting lighter which seems to implicate biological sources such as wetlands and livestock. This could be for a variety of reasons such as the fact that climate change could be causing permafrost in the tundra to melt and release methane, but more research needs to be done to reach a conclusion.

Up Next

One Cool Thing: A Breath of Fresh Air

One Cool Thing: A Breath of Fresh Air

Delegates attending the COP26 conference in Glasgow will get to see a very cool display during their stay. So cool, in fact, that it’s been frozen since 1765. Artist Wayne Binitie and scientists of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have retrieved an Antarctic time capsule containing the world’s purest air. The pocket of atmosphere was […]

Continue Reading 204 words
EU Broke Air Pollution Limits in 2020 Despite COVID

EU Broke Air Pollution Limits in 2020 Despite COVID

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer The European Environment Agency (EEA) found that a majority of EU countries broke at least one air pollution limit last year — despite COVID-19 lockdowns. In addition, 17 EU countries failed to stay below ozone pollution targets, which directly influence global warming; and eight EU countries failed to stay […]

Continue Reading 278 words
Jakarta Residents Win Court Case; President Must Address Air Pollution

Jakarta Residents Win Court Case; President Must Address Air Pollution

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer An Indonesian district court ruled yesterday that Indonesian President Joko Widodo has neglected Jakarta’s residents right to clean air. In a unanimous ruling in favor of the 32 residents who brought the case, the Central Jakarta District Court ordered Widodo, and six other top officials deemed negligent, to improve […]

Continue Reading 397 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.