Fertilizer plants emit 100 times more methane than reported

Fertilizer plants emit 100 times more methane than reported

SOURCE: EurekAlert! DATE: June 6, 2019 SNIP: Emissions of methane from the industrial sector have been vastly underestimated, researchers from Cornell University and Environmental Defense Fund have found. Using a Google Street View car equipped with a high-precision methane sensor, the researchers discovered that methane emissions from ammonia fertilizer plants were 100 times higher than the fertilizer industry’s self-reported estimate. They also were substantially higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimate for all industrial processes in the United States. The use of natural gas has grown in recent years, bolstered by improved efficiency in shale gas extraction and the perception that natural gas is a less dirty fossil fuel. “But natural gas is largely methane, which molecule-per-molecule has a stronger global warming potential than carbon dioxide,” Albertson said. “The presence of substantial emissions or leaks anywhere along the supply chain could make natural gas a more significant contributor to climate change than previously thought.” To evaluate methane emissions from downstream industrial sources, the researchers focused on the fertilizer industry, which uses natural gas both as the fuel and one of the main ingredients for ammonia and urea products. Ammonia fertilizer is produced at only a couple dozen plants in the U.S.; factories are often located near public roadways, where emissions carried downwind can be detected – in this case by mobile sensors. For this study, the Google Street View vehicle traveled public roads near six representative fertilizer plants in the country’s midsection to quantify “fugitive methane emissions” – defined as inadvertent losses of methane to the atmosphere, likely due to incomplete chemical reactions during fertilizer production, incomplete fuel...
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...
The permafrost bomb is ticking

The permafrost bomb is ticking

SOURCE: Yale Climate Connections DATE: February 12, 2019 SNIP: About a fifth of the Northern Hemisphere landmass is permafrost, ground that has been mostly frozen for half a million years or more. Now there are signs of thaw appearing in many places across this vast landscape circling the Arctic, and at accelerated rates. It is only a matter of time until the incremental thawing of the permafrost reaches a tipping point of no return, a state of accelerated and irreversible change, the side effects of which might well push other parts of the Arctic beyond their own tipping points. Quite possibly, we are poised to witness such a transformation within our lifetimes – ice sheet loss, increased frequencies of fires in the tundra and boreal forests, and complete habitat loss for marine mammals, to name just a few examples of the changes that could occur. The major side effect of a thawing permafrost is that it will further enhance global warming with the release of large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The permafrost contains organic matter, and thawing will enable bacterial decomposition that will release methane as a byproduct of anaerobic respiration. The last time there was a large-scale thaw of the permafrost was four interglacials ago. Evidence of this thawing event can be found in Siberian caves where stalactites and stalagmites growth last occurred at that time. Such deposits can only form when there is liquid water flowing. At the time of the thaw, about 450,000 years ago, the climate was about 1.5°C warmer than pre-industrial temperatures. Today, the temperature is nearly as warm – 1°C...