The Methane Detectives: On the Trail of a Global Warming Mystery

The Methane Detectives: On the Trail of a Global Warming Mystery

SOURCE: Undark DATE: May 13, 2019 SNIP: Every week, dozens of metal flasks arrive at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, each one loaded with air from a distant corner of the world. Research chemist Ed Dlugokencky and his colleagues in the Global Monitoring Division catalog the canisters, and then use a series of high-precision tools — a gas chromatograph, a flame ionization detector, sophisticated software — to measure how much carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane each flask contains. The air in the flasks shows that the concentration of methane in the atmosphere had been steadily rising since 1983, before levelling off around 2000. “And then, boom, look at how it changes here,” Dlugokencky says, pointing at a graph on his computer screen. “This is really an abrupt change in the global methane budget, starting around 2007.” The amount of methane in the atmosphere has been increasing ever since. And nobody really knows why. What’s more, no one saw it coming. Methane levels have been climbing more steeply than climate experts anticipated, to a degree “so unexpected that it was not considered in pathway models preparatory to the Paris Agreement,” as Dlugokencky and several co-authors noted in a recently published paper. As the years plod on and the methane piles up, solving this mystery has taken on increasing urgency. Over a 20-year-time frame, methane traps 86 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. It is responsible for about a quarter of total atmospheric warming to date. And while the steady increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are deeply worrying, they are...
Worsening Algae Blooms Could Significantly Increase Global Methane Emissions

Worsening Algae Blooms Could Significantly Increase Global Methane Emissions

SOURCE: Yale e360 DATE: March 27, 2019 SNIP: Population growth and climate change over the next century will lead to a major rise in the number and severity of algae blooms in the world’s lakes, increasing global methane emissions by 30 to 90 percent, according to a new study led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, examined the impacts of global population growth (an estimated 50 percent by 2100), climate change-induced flooding and runoff, and rising global temperatures on nutrient levels in the world’s lakes. It found that the extra sewage, fertilizers, and other nutrients entering waterways will increase the eutrophication of the world’s lakes by as much as 200 percent by 2050, then double or quadruple by 2100. Eutrophication — or excess nutrient levels — causes dense algae blooms to form, which can ruin drinking water supplies and create hypoxic “dead zones” that suffocate marine life. These algae blooms are also a major source of global methane emissions — a greenhouse gas 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the short...
Sharp rise in methane levels threatens world climate targets

Sharp rise in methane levels threatens world climate targets

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: February 17, 2019 SNIP: Dramatic rises in atmospheric methane are threatening to derail plans to hold global temperature rises to 2C, scientists have warned. In a paper published this month by the American Geophysical Union, researchers say sharp rises in levels of methane – which is a powerful greenhouse gas – have strengthened over the past four years. Urgent action is now required to halt further increases in methane in the atmosphere, to avoid triggering enhanced global warming and temperature rises well beyond 2C. “What we are now witnessing is extremely worrying,” said one of the paper’s lead authors, Professor Euan Nisbet of Royal Holloway, University of London. “It is particularly alarming because we are still not sure why atmospheric methane levels are rising across the planet.” [Ed note: Perhaps these guys need to get together with these guys.] During much of the 20th century, levels of methane, mostly from fossil fuel sources, increased in the atmosphere but, by the beginning of the 21st century, it had stabilised, said Nisbet. “Then, to our surprise, levels starting rising in 2007. That increase began to accelerate after 2014 and fast growth has continued.” Studies suggest these increases are more likely to be mainly biological in origin. However, the exact cause remains unclear. Some researchers believe the spread of intense farming in Africa may be involved, in particular in tropical regions where conditions are becoming warmer and wetter because of climate change. However, other scientists warn that there could be a more sinister factor at work. Natural chemicals in the atmosphere – which help to break down methane...
Melting ice sheets release tons of methane into the atmosphere

Melting ice sheets release tons of methane into the atmosphere

SOURCE: Phys.org DATE: January 3, 2019 SNIP: The Greenland Ice Sheet emits tons of methane according to a new study, showing that subglacial biological activity impacts the atmosphere far more than previously thought. An international team of researchers led by the University of Bristol camped for three months next to the Greenland Ice Sheet, sampling the meltwater that runs off a large catchment (> 600 km2) of the Ice Sheet during the summer months. As reported in Nature, using novel sensors to measure methane in meltwater runoff in real time, they observed that methane was continuously exported from beneath the ice. They calculated that at least six tons of methane was transported to their measuring site from this portion of the Ice Sheet alone. Professor Jemma Wadham, Director of Bristol’s Cabot Institute for the Environment, who led the investigation, said: “A key finding is that much of the methane produced beneath the ice likely escapes the Greenland Ice Sheet in large, fast flowing rivers before it can be oxidized to CO2, a typical fate for methane gas which normally reduces its greenhouse warming...
Iceland Volcano and Glacier are Releasing Huge Amounts of Methane

Iceland Volcano and Glacier are Releasing Huge Amounts of Methane

SOURCE: Newsweek and Scientific Reports DATE: November 20, 2018 SNIP: Huge amounts of methane are being released from a glacier connected to Katla—one of Iceland’s largest and most active volcanoes. Researchers found that up to 41 tonnes of methane is released through meltwater from the Sólheimajökull glacier every day over the summer months. The study, published in Scientific Reports, is the first to show methane is released from glaciers on such a large scale. Methane is a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. It is becoming of increasing concern because of its potential to contribute to climate change. In Arctic regions, methane is locked up in permafrost—ground that is permanently frozen. As global temperatures increase, the soil thaws and methane is released, contributing to further warming. Identifying and understanding previously unrecognized sources of methane—like the latest study on glaciers—is hugely important to climate change models. If this volcano and glacier is representative of other similar systems, it could mean masses of previously unaccounted methane are being released into the atmosphere. The team took water samples from the edge of the lake in front of the glacier to measure the concentrations of methane. They found that compared to other nearby rivers and sediments, the levels were far higher. The highest concentrations of methane were at the point where the river emerges from beneath the glacier. Further analysis allowed them to find the exact sources of the methane—microbiological activity on the glacier bed. When methane comes into contact with oxygen it normally combines to form carbon dioxide. However, at Sólheimajökull when the meltwater reaches the bed of the glacier...