Now Reading
Methane in the atmosphere is at an all-time high – here’s what it means for climate change

Methane in the atmosphere is at an all-time high – here’s what it means for climate change

A gas flare atop a metal structure.

Methane recently reached 1,900 parts per billion (ppb) of Earth’s atmosphere according to measurements taken by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA), in the US. This compares to about 700 ppbBefore the industrial revolution.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gases, but it lasts. Around nine yearsIt is in the air. Its total global warming impact since 1750, including the knock-on effects that it has on other gases is approximately half that of CO₂.

Atmospheric methane stabilized after rising rapidly in the 1980s. The 2007 growth was reestablished and has continued. Recent years have seen an acceleration – the sharpest rise on record happened in 2020. This was not the case when world leaders signed The 2015 Paris Agreement. Methane is a growing concern largest discrepancy from emissions trajectories necessary for meeting the agreement’s target.

So what’s behind the recent surge – and is there a way to reverse it?

Where methane comes is unknown

Every year, about 600 million tonnes worth of methane are released into our atmosphere. EstimatesTwo-fifths are believed to be from natural sources, such as rotting vegetation in swamps. The remaining three-fifths are from human-related sources.

The fossil fuel industry emits well over 100,000,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. It grew rapidly during the 1980s. Natural gas is used to heat homes and generate electricity in the UK. About half of the electricity is renewable, is mainly methane. Gas industry leaks are common at wells, pipelines, and distribution pipes under streets and home boilers. The coal industry was responsible up to One-third of fossil fuel emissionsBetween 2000 and 2017, via ventilation shafts in mines, and during transportation and crushing coal for power stations.

A gas flare atop a metal structure.
As the fossil fuel industry grew in the 1980s, the atmospheric methane level increased.
Alexisaj/Shutterstock

Agriculture produces approximately 150 million tonnes per yearThe largest overall source is the. Urban landfills, sewage systems and other sources contribute about 70 million tonnes per year.

Scientists can identify methane sources by studying how much carbon-12 is present in the atmosphere. These different forms of carbon – chemically similar but with different masses – are known as isotopes. Biogenic methane is a form of carbon-12 that is produced by microbes in decaying plants or cow stomachs. Methane from fossil fuels and flames has comparatively higher carbon-13.

Two centuries of rapid expansion in the oil, coal, and gas industries has made atmospheric methane richer with carbon-13. This trend has reversed and atmospheric methane now contains a greater proportion of carbon-13. Reduplication. While fossil fuel emissions may still be increasing, methane emissions that are so high are mainly due to biogenic sources that are growing faster.

Why are biogenic emissions increasing?

Global monitoring shows that in many years since 2007, methane’s growth in the atmosphere has been led from sources in the tropics and sub-tropics. The contribution of the high northern latitudes has also been significant in certain years.

A colourful chart depicting growth in methane emissions over time according to latitude.

Methane growth rates by year and latitude. The tropics and sub-tropics are between 30°N and 30°S, while the Arctic is north of 66°N.
NOAA, Author provided

Wetlands emit roughly 450 g/m2 of carbon dioxide, from tropical swamps in the Amazon, Nile, and Congo basins to tundra and tundra in Russia and muskeg Bogs in Canada. 200 million tonnesEach year, the world releases approximately 1.2 million metric tons of methane. Global temperatures rise, and the rate at which wetlands produce and decompose biomass increases. This causes methane to be released more frequently. Methane emissions accelerate climate change and climate change causes the release of more methane – a positive feedback of warming feeding more warming.

The microbes found inside the stomachs of ruminant animal ruminants like cattle, sheep and goats are similar to those found in wetland microbes. Cows walk in wetlands, so it is clear that they are walking in wetlands. Approximately, ruminants produce almost as much methane than fossil fuel emissions. Annually, 115 million tonnes. Globally, approximately two-thirdsAnimal pasture is a part of farmland.

Emissions from landfills have been ReducedMany European countries emit a lot methane from biodigesters that convert urban food and garden waste into fertiliser. In Africa and India expanding cities create new landfills and rural areas burn large quantities of crop and grass waste, causing widespread air pollution. However little research is done to determine their emissions.

Methane removal

Methane’s short lifetime means that cutting emissions Reduces greenhouse emissions quickly. Gas leaks are obvious targets both at wells or in street pipes. Stopping the coal industry is an urgent global priority, not just to cut methane but also CO₂ and air pollution.

See Also
Charts show increasing heat wave exposure for low-income people

In the short term, methane can be removed from coal mine ventilation and cattle barns just as easily as other pollutants. Taken out of car exhausts. To reduce emissions from biodigesters, stricter government regulations will be required.

Reduced emissions in tropical countries means reducing crop waste burning. Although landfills are likely to grow rapidly, they can also be a source of methane and other pollutants. However, emissions can be reduced. Landfills can be covered with soil.

The rapid growth of human population and the growing global demand for a meat-rich diet are both linked to rising agricultural emissions. The improvement of education access among girls and women can slow down population growth.

A red cow licking a sampling rod with yellow wire.
Methane emissions from tropical forests are being fueled by meat demand.
Lucy Broderick, Author provided

Fire alarm! Methane levels exceeding 1,900ppb are alarming. We cannot stop natural wetland emission. However, human-caused emissions can often be reduced quickly. At COP26 in Glasgow – the most recent UN climate change summit in November 2021 – more than 100 nations signed The Global Methane PledgeThe company has pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

It is easy to get started: stop gas leaks, cover landfills and stop crop waste burning. These actions will have wider benefits, such as reducing pollution. However, large emitters like Australia, China, India and Russia did not join. Absentee countries ultimately do harm themselves and should sign this Pledge.


Imagine weekly climate newsletter

Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?

Instead, receive a weekly roundup sent to your inbox. Every Wednesday, The Conversation’s environment editor writes Imagine, a short email that goes a little deeper into just one climate issue. Join the 10,000+ readers who’ve subscribed so far.


View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.