Breaking down the impact of greenhouse gases

Oct 23, 2012 by Kristin Manke
A-tisket, a-tasket, a better greenhouse gas basket
Flares burn off excess methane at oil and gas refineries, landfills, and other industrial plants. Flares are used to control release of methane into the atmosphere but recovery options are also available that capture methane for use as fuel.

It's called the global warming potential or GWP for short and it bundles together the importance of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases on future climate change.  Researchers from DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, working at the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI), found that increasing methane's ranking in the GWP made little difference on the overall outcome of climate change projections. JGCRI is a partnership between PNNL and the University of Maryland.

Carbon dioxide gets most of the press when it comes to greenhouse gas. So much so that it's used as a standard by which researchers and policy makers measure the global warming impact of all other . Though not as abundant, methane, a gas released by oil drilling, landfills, and other industrial activities as well as by nature, is the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas and traps more heat in the atmosphere per pound than carbon dioxide.

Considering the shorter lifetime of methane in the atmosphere along with the fact that relatively inexpensive abatement technologies already exist, methane may be an easier emission reduction target. For these reasons, scientists wanted to know if they upped the ante on methane's importance, making it a bigger target for reduction, would it make a difference in climate change projections. The short answer—not that much.

Using the Global Change Assessment Model, an integrated model of the human and Earth system, the researchers found that the impact of changing the value of methane compared to carbon dioxide is relatively small. There are several reasons for this small sensitivity. First, the large amount of relatively low-cost available methane abatement options, which tend to be used in most cases; and second, the interaction between carbon dioxide and methane reductions within the integrated system show that when carbon dioxide is abated, methane is also reduced. This is because reductions in coal or natural gas burning from policies to lower emissions also reduce methane emissions.

Finally, the team noted a third cost in changing the metric.

"The GWP index is already embedded in targets, real-world policies in national and international climate change policy frameworks. Changing this value would have a transition cost, further reducing any benefit a change might provide," said Dr. Steven J. Smith, a senior scientist at JGCRI. "If society wants to reduce , then the key for methane is to put in place incentives for reducing emissions. We found that the exact value placed on was less important."

Explore further: Deforestation could intensify climate change in Congo Basin by half

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Storage of greenhouse gasses in Siberian peat moor

Jan 29, 2007

Wet peat moorlands form a sustainable storage place for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide but are also a source of the much stronger greenhouse gas methane. According to Dutch researcher Wiebe Borren, peat moorlands will ...

Methane from microbes: a fuel for the future

Dec 10, 2007

Microbes could provide a clean, renewable energy source and use up carbon dioxide in the process, suggested Dr James Chong at a Science Media Centre press briefing today.

Recommended for you

Predicting bioavailable cadmium levels in soils

14 hours ago

New Zealand's pastoral landscapes are some of the loveliest in the world, but they also contain a hidden threat. Many of the country's pasture soils have become enriched in cadmium. Grasses take up this toxic heavy metal, ...

Oil drilling possible 'trigger' for deadly Italy quakes

18 hours ago

Italy's Emilia-Romagna region on Tuesday suspended new drilling as it published a report that warned that hydrocarbon exploitation may have acted as a "trigger" in twin earthquakes that killed 26 people in ...

Snow is largely a no-show for Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

18 hours ago

On March 1, 65 mushers and their teams of dogs left Anchorage, Alaska, on a quest to win the Iditarod—a race covering 1,000 miles of mountain ranges, frozen rivers, dense forest, tundra and coastline. According ...

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

19 hours ago

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

Study shows less snowpack will harm ecosystem

19 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new study by CAS Professor of Biology Pamela Templer shows that milder winters can have a negative impact both on trees and on the water quality of nearby aquatic ecosystems, far into the warm growing season.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Howhot
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2012
an integrated model of the human and Earth system, the researchers found that the impact of changing the value of methane compared to carbon dioxide is relatively small.


In other words, Global Warming is almost exclusively caused by man burning mined and drilled for fossil fuels.
GSwift7
1.7 / 5 (3) Oct 24, 2012
In other words, Global Warming is almost exclusively caused by man burning mined and drilled for fossil fuels


This article doesn't address that issue.

I think their point was more along the lines of this: Doing something about methane is easier, so what would be the result if we go after the low-hanging fruit first? Their result says that it isn't worth it for several reasons. Their work was not intended to determine the cause of global warming.

I'm not sure if you totally missed the point of the article, or if you are just trolling. Either way, just thought I'd clarify it for you.

More news stories

UN weather agency warns of 'El Nino' this year

The UN weather agency Tuesday warned there was a good chance of an "El Nino" climate phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean this year, bringing droughts and heavy rainfall to the rest of the world.

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

(Phys.org) —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.