Surge in methane emissions threatens efforts to slow climate change

December 12, 2016
Methane emissions by source. Credit: Global Carbon Project of Future Earth

Global concentrations of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and cause of climate change, are now growing faster in the atmosphere than at any other time in the past two decades.

That is the message of a team of international scientists in an editorial to be published 12 December in the journal Environmental Research Letters. The group reports that methane concentrations in the air began to surge around 2007 and grew precipitously in 2014 and 2015. In that two-year period, concentrations shot up by 10 or more parts per billion annually. It's a stark contrast from the early 2000s when methane concentrations crept up by just 0.5 parts per billion on average each year. The reason for the spike is unclear but may come from emissions from agricultural sources and mainly around the tropics - potentially from farm sites like and cattle pastures.

Scientists involved in the editorial will discuss these trends at a session during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco on Tuesday, 13 December.

The findings could give new global attention to methane - which is much less prevalent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide but is a more , trapping 28 times more heat. And while research shows that the growth of carbon dioxide emissions has flattened out in recent years, methane emissions seem to be soaring.

"The leveling off we've seen in the last three years for is strikingly different from the recent rapid increase in methane," says Robert Jackson, a co-author of the paper and a Professor in Earth System Science at Stanford University. The results for methane "are worrisome but provide an immediate opportunity for mitigation that complements efforts for carbon dioxide."

The authors of the new editorial previously helped to produce the 2016 Global Methane Budget. This report provided a comprehensive look at how methane had flowed in and out of the atmosphere from 2000 to 2012 because of human activities and other sources. It found, for example, that human emissions of the gas seemed to have increased after 2007, although it's not clear by how much. The methane budget is published every two to three years by the Global Carbon Project, a research project of Future Earth.

Methane, Jackson says, is a difficult gas to track. In part, that's because it can come from many different sources. Those include natural sources like marshes and other wetlands. But the bulk, or about 60 percent, of methane added to the atmosphere every year comes from human activities. They include farming sources like cattle operations - cows expel large quantities of methane from their specialised digestive tracks - and rice paddies - the flooded soils make good homes for microbes that produce the gas. A smaller portion of the human budget, about a third, comes from fossil fuel exploration, where methane can leak from oil and gas wells during drilling.

"Unlike , where we have well described power plants, almost everything in the global methane budget is diffuse," Jackson says. "From cows to wetlands to rice paddies, the methane cycle is harder."

But a range of information - such as from large-scale inventories of methane emissions, measurements of methane in the air and computer models - suggests that this cycle has shifted a lot in the last two decades. Jackson and his colleagues, for instance, report that the growth of methane in the atmosphere was mostly stagnant in 2000 to 2006. But that changed after 2007.

"Why this change happened is still not well understood," says Marielle Saunois, lead author of the new paper and an assistant professor of Université de Versailles Saint Quentin and researcher at Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement in France. "For the last two years especially, the growth rate has been faster than for the years before. It's really intriguing."

Saunois adds that this runaway pace could threaten international efforts to limit warming from to 2 degrees Celsius. The research provides a strong argument that "we should do more about methane emissions," Saunois says. "If we want to stay below 2 degrees temperature increase, we should not follow this track and need to make a rapid turn-around."

Pinpointing where those methane emissions are coming from, however, isn't easy. Many environmental advocates in North America have raised concerns that expanded drilling for natural gas in recent years could lead to a surge in methane emissions. But Saunois says that based on available data, the more likely source, at least for now, is agriculture. She and her colleagues aren't sure what may be driving this increase. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, livestock operations around the world expanded from producing 1,300 million head of cattle in 1994 to nearly 1,500 million in 2014 - with a similar increase in rice cultivation in many Asian countries.

Saunois and Jackson argue, however, that the story isn't all bad news. A number of researchers have experimented with different ways of reducing from farms. Feeding cows a diet supplemented with linseed oil, for example, seems to reduce the amount of methane they belch out. "When it comes to , there has been a lot of focus on the fossil fuel industry, but we need to look just as hard if not harder at agriculture," Jackson says. "The situation certainly isn't hopeless. It's a real opportunity."

Explore further: New research explores how wetlands and agriculture, not fossil fuels could be causing a global rise in methane

More information: "The growing role of methane in Anthropogenic Climate Change" Environmental Research Letters, iopscience.iop.org/article/10. … 48-9326/11/12/120207

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24 comments

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rodkeh
1 / 5 (6) Dec 12, 2016
Is this working?
rodkeh
1 / 5 (12) Dec 12, 2016
These idiots have no clue!

Methane has nothing to do with climate and this is all just more fear mongering based on a fantasy.

The Methane has been spiking ever since the Clathrates on the ocean floors began to melt and that IS the source, not cow farts and rice patties. Cow farts and rice patties remain about same as ever, they don't change.

Climate scientists should a be prosecuted as frauds and to the fullest extent permitted by law!
emanuensis
3.4 / 5 (10) Dec 12, 2016
i think this is serious, and i suspect they are whistling in the dark when they say it is not. Keeping us sheep calm.

my guess is that global warming has reached a 'tipping point' where the methane of the tundra is released. This is a positive feedback scenario. Very little can be done ... NOW.

Another TP is when the Methane clathrates locked in sea beds starts bubbling up. That being release could well be explosive: it is how the Fjords were formed.

The 'Climate Deniers' have won:-(
rodkeh
1 / 5 (11) Dec 12, 2016
i think this is serious,


You only feel that way because you don't know the definition of a greenhouse gas.
RichManJoe
4.5 / 5 (8) Dec 12, 2016
Could the rise be from the warming arctic and permafrost melt? If so, this could be the fat lady singing the positive feedback blues. Permafrost melt releases CH4 causing increased warming causing more permafrost melting, releasing more CH4, and around and around we go.
rodkeh
1 / 5 (10) Dec 12, 2016
Could the rise be from the warming arctic and permafrost melt? If so, this could be the fat lady singing the positive feedback blues. Permafrost melt releases CH4 causing increased warming causing more permafrost melting, releasing more CH4, and around and around we go.


Or,... it could be just because the arctic is warming and may have nothing whatsoever to do with CH4.
Gaby_64
3.3 / 5 (7) Dec 12, 2016
nothing to do with climate, its 80 times more potent then CO2
emanuensis
Dec 12, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
rodkeh
1 / 5 (7) Dec 12, 2016
nothing to do with climate, its 80 times more potent then CO2


Boy...... you sure got that right!

Methane stinks way more than CO2!
rodkeh
1 / 5 (10) Dec 12, 2016
Another TP is when the Methane clathrates locked in sea beds starts bubbling up. That being release could well be explosive: it is how the Fjords were formed.

The 'Climate Deniers' have won:-(


Well, you're a little bit late!

In 2006 I predicted that the ocean's Methane would soon start to be released, based on my understanding of the mechanism of climate and climate change.

In 2007 it was confirmed that there had indeed been a spike in atmospheric Methane in 2006 and the most remarkable thing about it was, that was very evenly distributed, globally.

In the Northern Hemisphere, it would not be unreasonable to suspect the tundra of being the source of a large spike but in the Southern Hemisphere, they have only cow farts and rice paddies and those just can't change fast enough or in great enough quantity, to cause a spike. Just not physically possible!
(continued)
rodkeh
1 / 5 (10) Dec 12, 2016
Part 2:

The only source spread evenly enough, around the globe, and that is capable of being released simultaneously, is oceanic Clathrates but contemporary greenhouse theory didn't predict it, so it was summarily, rejected. Since then there have been an unending parade of discoveries, of oceanic seeps, coming from those Clathrates that according to contemporary theory, couldn't be the source…….. Well they were wrong again, as the climate scientists always are, because they have no clue!

If you knew and understood the definition of a greenhouse gas, as defined by its author, Mr. John Tyndall back in 1860, you would know and understand that you have absolutely nothing to fear from either Methane or CO2 and that they are in fact a gift from God (maybe) and a blessing, however CO2 is a greater blessing than Methane, so it follows that we should flame the Methane and make more CO2. The more CO2, the more our planet will thrive.
(continued)
rodkeh
1 / 5 (10) Dec 12, 2016
Part 3:

Remember, Commercial Greenhouses find it well worth their while to burn fuel, to produce CO2 because of the increased plant production and the increased PROFITS! If we just add CO2 to the atmosphere, the whole planet thrives, just like the greenhouses.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (9) Dec 12, 2016
"Commercial Greenhouses find it well worth their while to burn fuel, to produce CO2 because of the increased plant production and the increased PROFITS!"
-------------------------------------

Show me.
Gaby_64
3.5 / 5 (8) Dec 12, 2016
Greenhouse gases, John Tyndall describes it as gases that trap heat by absorption

Methane traps 86 times more heat then co2

You need to get ecked, something is wrong with you, not the vast majority of the scientific community
eachus
1 / 5 (3) Dec 12, 2016
This budget is nonsense. Not due to the fact that inaccuracies are far greater than the net change, but that most of these sources, and especially sinks of CH4 are not static, and significantly affected by atmospheric conditions. The variability in the rate of atmospheric conversion (from CH4 to CO2) is much greater than the net change in net atmospheric CH4 content.

So what is going on? Conversion of CH4 to CO2 is of course, temperature dependent. So what we are seeing is more CH4 release near the poles--the North pole specifically, and during summer months. Whether that is considered bad or good is a much different conversation, one which would be better served by a global map of net CH4 concentrations: http://www.iup.un..._eng.png

Of course, the most important data in the map is how to reduce CH4 levels in the Arctic: Wait a few months. The life of CH4 in the atmosphere can be measured in weeks...
rodkeh
1 / 5 (6) Dec 12, 2016
Greenhouse gases, John Tyndall describes it as gases that trap heat by absorption

Methane traps 86 times more heat then co2

You need to get ecked, something is wrong with you, not the vast majority of the scientific community


Wrong. Look it up.
rodkeh
Dec 12, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
rodkeh
1 / 5 (8) Dec 12, 2016
The variability in the rate of atmospheric conversion (from CH4 to CO2) is much greater than the net change in net atmospheric CH4 content.


That is really great news, I have yet run across those statistics. Can you tell me how much in excess, the conversion rate is? It would be nice to know how much safety margin we have. Not that there is any safety issue, it's just a figure of speech in this case.

All in all though, this really is a good thing! The more CO2, the greener and cleaner the environment becomes and the better able to accommodate the coming 9 billion horde.
yotamariel
2 / 5 (4) Dec 13, 2016
Well written. Big problem indeed. Here's a solution -- a startup tracking methane emissions by using sensors on micro-satellites: bluefield.co
Benni
1 / 5 (6) Dec 14, 2016
Well written. Big problem indeed. Here's a solution -- a startup tracking methane emissions by using sensors on micro-satellites: bluefield.co
.........and what they'll find on their tracking maps is that almost all the methane is percolating from the bottoms of the oceans. So how does that help?

For every atom produced by a cow fart a billion are released through the surface of the world's oceans. Now what's your plan?

antigoracle
1 / 5 (5) Dec 14, 2016
Could the rise be from the warming arctic and permafrost melt? If so, this could be the fat lady singing the positive feedback blues. Permafrost melt releases CH4 causing increased warming causing more permafrost melting, releasing more CH4, and around and around we go.

Could you be more stupid.
NASA wasted millions in tax dollars trying hard to find this and did NOT.
philstacy9
1 / 5 (3) Dec 18, 2016
"Thus, the analysis results invalidate each of the Three Lines of Evidence in its CO2 Endangerment Finding. Once EPA's THS assumption is invalidated, it is obvious why the climate models they claim can be relied upon, are also invalid."
http://manhattanc...alarmism
BubbaNicholson
1 / 5 (2) Dec 19, 2016
Only interception of the sun's glow will halt warming. Stopping the hundreds of nuclear weapon blasts could help, too. Just sayin'. Heat is our problem, not methane, not CO2 necessarily. Yes we should work to diminish needless emissions, but if the heat is addressed by orbiting big balloons to block a tiny fraction of the sun's light away from our atmosphere, then we can continue to live here awhile longer.
dnatwork
5 / 5 (1) Dec 19, 2016
Odd that they don't mention the vast increase in methane production due to fracking in the US over the past two decades. Very odd.

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