Methane concentrations are rising and scientists don’t know why

Melting permafrost in Svalbard, Norway. Photo: Jeff Vanuga

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

New Delhi’s Air Is So Bad It’s a Health Emergency

New Delhi’s Air Is So Bad It’s a Health Emergency

Residents of New Delhi are “in trouble” — the city’s air quality became so unbearable this past weekend that city officials had to halt outdoor work and activities like construction, limit the cars on the road, and keep people inside – they even closed several thousand primary schools until today.  The government declared it an official public health emergency in which a toxic cloud hangs over the capital, obscuring the sky and sending people to emergency rooms with pulmonary problems.

Why This Matters:  New Delhi’s air quality is 20 times worse than what the World Health Organization considers safe.  That causes many premature deaths as well as the country’s children possibly suffering permanent brain damage from poisonous air in polluted cities.

Continue Reading 303 words
GM, Chrysler and Toyota Take Trump’s Side on Federal Standards on Clean Cars

GM, Chrysler and Toyota Take Trump’s Side on Federal Standards on Clean Cars

Three major automakers announced late Monday that they join the ongoing litigation on clean cars in support of the federal government’s authority to decide whether there should be a single, federally mandated standard fuel economy standard, although the companies stopped short of endorsing the administration’s proposal to roll back fuel efficiency standards for cars.  

Why This Matters:  The car companies need certainty so that they can plan ahead, cut the cost of regulatory compliance and avoid having to meet numerous different standards for different states. The California clean-car standard is essential for the U.S. to cut carbon emissions.  These companies know that California is within its rights under the Clean Air Act to set a tougher standard and they should be working to electrify the fleet not double down on continuing with fossil fuels.

Continue Reading 470 words
Senate Dems Propose Major Clean Cars Push As Court Rejects Challenge to Clean Car Rollback

Senate Dems Propose Major Clean Cars Push As Court Rejects Challenge to Clean Car Rollback

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, along with Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Sen. Jeff Merkley  of Oregon, on Friday announced a $450 billion/10 year “Clean Cars For America Climate Proposal”  to accelerate the transition to net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century by making clean cars and charging infrastructure accessible and affordable to all Americans.  Meanwhile, an appeals court in Washington, D.C. rejected on procedural grounds a challenge to the Trump Administration’s announced decision that it intends to replace the Obama clean car rule because the case is not ripe until the new rule is put in place.

Why This Matters:  It is impressive that the Senate Democrats’ proposal to speed the adoption of electric vehicles in the U.S. unites auto workers, environmental groups and the auto companies all in support of speeding the development and adoption of cleaner cars.

Continue Reading 516 words