Tag Archives: Methane

Drastic methane cuts are both urgent and possible

It’s a very potent greenhouse gas, and very short-lived. So drastic methane cuts should be a priority for rapid action.

LONDON, 13 May, 2021 − UN experts have found a new way to limit climate change, save lives, save the economy and reduce crop losses. It’s simple: start reducing emissions of the natural gas methane and bring them down by 45% in one generation. Drastic methane cuts can work wonders for the global climate.

Methane − also known as marsh gas − is a potent greenhouse gas and a dangerous air pollutant. According to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment, a cut of approaching half of emissions by 2045 would prevent an estimated 260,000 premature deaths, save 775,000 asthma-related visits to hospital, and prevent 73 billion hours of labour lost because of extreme temperatures and annual crop losses of 25 million tonnes.

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

“The benefits to society, economies and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”

The proposal is unlikely to meet with any argument from the world’s climate scientists, who have welcomed the report and its conclusions. “Seldom in the world of climate change action is there a solution so stuffed with win-wins,” said Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh’s climate change institute.

“Methane not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths”

“This blunt report makes clear that slashing emissions of methane − a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas − will deliver large and rapid benefits for the climate, air quality, human health, agriculture, and the economy too.”

And Joeri Rogelj, who directs research at the Grantham Institute of Imperial College London, said: “Methane occupies a special place in the land of climate pollutants.

“It’s the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide; its emissions can be reduced rapidly with readily available measures and this can impact temperature over the next decades; and finally, it not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and crop harvest losses. Together, this costs the economy billions.”

Methane accounts for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions: about 30% of the warming in the last 200 years can be attributed to methane, escaping from oil fields and refineries; from the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants; from burning peatlands and thawing permafrost.

And prompt and determined action to reduce methane would, UNEP argues, deliver swift results. Molecule for molecule, it is many times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, but much shorter-lived. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for 100 years or more; methane has a lifetime of about 10 years.

Atmospheric methane is a key component in the formation of low-level ozone in polluted cities: ozone pollution or smog is blamed for around half a million premature deaths per year. It also diminishes growth and reduces crop productivity. And best of all, the researchers agree, is that industries, researchers and conservationists all know ways of effectively stopping its release into the atmosphere: it could be reduced by a third just in the next 10 years.

Top-priority pollutant

That is because the oil and gas sector releases, through leaks and escapes, almost 23%. Around 12% escapes from decomposing waste in landfill sites; 32% escapes from livestock and 8% from rice cultivation.

Almost two thirds of the action the report recommends could be undertaken at low cost but − as the researchers keep saying − high rewards in health, agriculture and global temperature control. The pay-off could be measurable: with global action on a sufficient and determined scale, the world could reduce potential global average warming by 0.3C by 2025.

In the last century, the world has already warmed in response to greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1°C, and is on course to rise by 2100 by more than 3°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

But global agreement in Paris in 2015 set a target by 2100 of “well below” 2°C − shorthand for an ideal limit of 1.5°C. Right now, this target looks increasingly optimistic. Drastic methane cuts could help. The US, the European Union, Russia and many of the world’s oil-producing nations have already announced plans to act.

“It is by far the top-priority short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle to keep 1.5°C within reach,” said Rick Duke, once a climate adviser to US President Obama and now part of President Joe Biden’s climate team. “The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally.” − Climate News Network

It’s a very potent greenhouse gas, and very short-lived. So drastic methane cuts should be a priority for rapid action.

LONDON, 13 May, 2021 − UN experts have found a new way to limit climate change, save lives, save the economy and reduce crop losses. It’s simple: start reducing emissions of the natural gas methane and bring them down by 45% in one generation. Drastic methane cuts can work wonders for the global climate.

Methane − also known as marsh gas − is a potent greenhouse gas and a dangerous air pollutant. According to a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) assessment, a cut of approaching half of emissions by 2045 would prevent an estimated 260,000 premature deaths, save 775,000 asthma-related visits to hospital, and prevent 73 billion hours of labour lost because of extreme temperatures and annual crop losses of 25 million tonnes.

“Cutting methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years and complements necessary efforts to reduce carbon dioxide,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP’s executive director.

“The benefits to society, economies and the environment are numerous and far outweigh the cost. We need international cooperation to urgently reduce methane emissions as much as possible this decade.”

The proposal is unlikely to meet with any argument from the world’s climate scientists, who have welcomed the report and its conclusions. “Seldom in the world of climate change action is there a solution so stuffed with win-wins,” said Dave Reay of the University of Edinburgh’s climate change institute.

“Methane not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths”

“This blunt report makes clear that slashing emissions of methane − a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas − will deliver large and rapid benefits for the climate, air quality, human health, agriculture, and the economy too.”

And Joeri Rogelj, who directs research at the Grantham Institute of Imperial College London, said: “Methane occupies a special place in the land of climate pollutants.

“It’s the second most important greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide; its emissions can be reduced rapidly with readily available measures and this can impact temperature over the next decades; and finally, it not only causes climate damage, but also air pollution that leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and crop harvest losses. Together, this costs the economy billions.”

Methane accounts for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions: about 30% of the warming in the last 200 years can be attributed to methane, escaping from oil fields and refineries; from the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants; from burning peatlands and thawing permafrost.

And prompt and determined action to reduce methane would, UNEP argues, deliver swift results. Molecule for molecule, it is many times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, but much shorter-lived. Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere for 100 years or more; methane has a lifetime of about 10 years.

Atmospheric methane is a key component in the formation of low-level ozone in polluted cities: ozone pollution or smog is blamed for around half a million premature deaths per year. It also diminishes growth and reduces crop productivity. And best of all, the researchers agree, is that industries, researchers and conservationists all know ways of effectively stopping its release into the atmosphere: it could be reduced by a third just in the next 10 years.

Top-priority pollutant

That is because the oil and gas sector releases, through leaks and escapes, almost 23%. Around 12% escapes from decomposing waste in landfill sites; 32% escapes from livestock and 8% from rice cultivation.

Almost two thirds of the action the report recommends could be undertaken at low cost but − as the researchers keep saying − high rewards in health, agriculture and global temperature control. The pay-off could be measurable: with global action on a sufficient and determined scale, the world could reduce potential global average warming by 0.3C by 2025.

In the last century, the world has already warmed in response to greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1°C, and is on course to rise by 2100 by more than 3°C above the long-term average for almost all human history.

But global agreement in Paris in 2015 set a target by 2100 of “well below” 2°C − shorthand for an ideal limit of 1.5°C. Right now, this target looks increasingly optimistic. Drastic methane cuts could help. The US, the European Union, Russia and many of the world’s oil-producing nations have already announced plans to act.

“It is by far the top-priority short-lived climate pollutant that we need to tackle to keep 1.5°C within reach,” said Rick Duke, once a climate adviser to US President Obama and now part of President Joe Biden’s climate team. “The United States is committed to driving down methane emissions both at home and globally.” − Climate News Network

Greenhouse gas levels surge despite slow economy

The global economy has been hard hit by the Covid pandemic. But greenhouse gas levels have worryingly shot upwards.

LONDON, 13 April, 2021 – It’s a set of statistics likely to send shivers down the spine of any climate scientist – or everyone concerned about the future of the planet. Despite a slowing world economy due to pandemic shutdowns and other Covid-related factors, climate-changing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere surged last year.

The US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the world’s leading scientific institutions, says the global rate of increase in CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels in 2020 was the fifth highest on record. If there had been no economic slowdown, NOAA says, the increase in CO2 levels last year would have been the highest since records began.

“Human activity is driving climate change”, says Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of NOAA’s global monitoring laboratory. “If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuel emissions to near zero – and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.”

Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are measured on a parts per million (ppm) basis. Based on measurements gathered at various monitoring stations around the world, NOAA calculates that CO2 levels increased by 2.6 ppm in 2020 to 412.5 ppm, an increase of 12% since 2000 and a concentration level believed to have last been present during the mid-Pliocene Warm Period around 3.6 million years ago.

Methane prompts concern

At that time global sea levels were more than 20 metres higher than they are today, and vast forests are believed to have covered many Arctic regions.

Of even more concern than the surge in CO2 is a jump in levels of methane (CH4) in the atmosphere last year.

Methane is generated from various sources besides fossil fuels, including decaying organic matter, rice paddies, livestock farming and landfill sites.

The worldwide fracking industry is also a significant source of methane emissions. The gas is not as longlived in the atmosphere as CO2, but it is more than 30 times as potent.

“Human activity is driving climate change. If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuel emissions to near zero”

NOAA says atmospheric concentrations of methane increased last year by the largest level since records began nearly 40 years ago. Scientists have described this jump as surprising – and disturbing.

“It is very scary indeed”, Euan Nisbet, professor of earth sciences at Royal Holloway University in the UK told the Financial Times.

NOAA says the recent increase in methane levels is likely to have more to do with biological sources such as wetlands and livestock than with emissions from fossil fuels.

One theory is that, as temperatures rise and rainfall increases in many tropical regions, more methane is released from wetlands, crops and vegetation: a climate change “tipping point” is reached, as one warming event encourages and reinforces another.

Gas plumes detected

A new generation of highly sophisticated satellites is able to target with ever-increasing accuracy separate incidents of methane escape around the world.

In recent days unusually large releases of methane – known as plumes – have been recorded over Bangladesh, a densely populated low-lying country among those most at risk from changes in climate. The Bangladesh government says the plumes are likely sourced from rice paddies, rubbish dumps and landfill sites.

Earlier this year satellites monitored large amounts of methane escaping from gas pipelines in Turkmenistan in central Asia. Similar plumes were detected over the country last year.

In May 2020 a massive methane plume was detected by satellite over Florida. Investigations are ongoing, but it is thought to have come from the state’s gas pipeline system. – Climate News Network

The global economy has been hard hit by the Covid pandemic. But greenhouse gas levels have worryingly shot upwards.

LONDON, 13 April, 2021 – It’s a set of statistics likely to send shivers down the spine of any climate scientist – or everyone concerned about the future of the planet. Despite a slowing world economy due to pandemic shutdowns and other Covid-related factors, climate-changing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere surged last year.

The US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the world’s leading scientific institutions, says the global rate of increase in CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels in 2020 was the fifth highest on record. If there had been no economic slowdown, NOAA says, the increase in CO2 levels last year would have been the highest since records began.

“Human activity is driving climate change”, says Colm Sweeney, assistant deputy director of NOAA’s global monitoring laboratory. “If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuel emissions to near zero – and even then we’ll need to look for ways to further remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.”

Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are measured on a parts per million (ppm) basis. Based on measurements gathered at various monitoring stations around the world, NOAA calculates that CO2 levels increased by 2.6 ppm in 2020 to 412.5 ppm, an increase of 12% since 2000 and a concentration level believed to have last been present during the mid-Pliocene Warm Period around 3.6 million years ago.

Methane prompts concern

At that time global sea levels were more than 20 metres higher than they are today, and vast forests are believed to have covered many Arctic regions.

Of even more concern than the surge in CO2 is a jump in levels of methane (CH4) in the atmosphere last year.

Methane is generated from various sources besides fossil fuels, including decaying organic matter, rice paddies, livestock farming and landfill sites.

The worldwide fracking industry is also a significant source of methane emissions. The gas is not as longlived in the atmosphere as CO2, but it is more than 30 times as potent.

“Human activity is driving climate change. If we want to mitigate the worst impacts, it’s going to take a deliberate focus on reducing fossil fuel emissions to near zero”

NOAA says atmospheric concentrations of methane increased last year by the largest level since records began nearly 40 years ago. Scientists have described this jump as surprising – and disturbing.

“It is very scary indeed”, Euan Nisbet, professor of earth sciences at Royal Holloway University in the UK told the Financial Times.

NOAA says the recent increase in methane levels is likely to have more to do with biological sources such as wetlands and livestock than with emissions from fossil fuels.

One theory is that, as temperatures rise and rainfall increases in many tropical regions, more methane is released from wetlands, crops and vegetation: a climate change “tipping point” is reached, as one warming event encourages and reinforces another.

Gas plumes detected

A new generation of highly sophisticated satellites is able to target with ever-increasing accuracy separate incidents of methane escape around the world.

In recent days unusually large releases of methane – known as plumes – have been recorded over Bangladesh, a densely populated low-lying country among those most at risk from changes in climate. The Bangladesh government says the plumes are likely sourced from rice paddies, rubbish dumps and landfill sites.

Earlier this year satellites monitored large amounts of methane escaping from gas pipelines in Turkmenistan in central Asia. Similar plumes were detected over the country last year.

In May 2020 a massive methane plume was detected by satellite over Florida. Investigations are ongoing, but it is thought to have come from the state’s gas pipeline system. – Climate News Network

Rising heat means more methane, warmer nights

Nights are warmer. So are northern lakes. And farm livestock are at greater risk of disease, thanks to rising heat.

LONDON, 20 October, 2020 − Global warming has already begun to alter the world perceptibly, with rising heat changing daily life for millions of people.

Over more than half the planet’s land surface, nights are now warming at a rate faster than the days, with unpredictable consequences for plant and animal life.

Warmer winters now mean that in Europe, Asia and North America, lakes that would once have frozen over are now increasingly sometimes ice-free even at the darkest moments of the year.

And ever-higher temperatures encourage the spread of infectious diseases, and unexpectedly with that, the hazard of yet more warming.

Increasing parasitic activity among farm animals could mean that infected cattle, sheep and goats can produce up to a third more methane. This natural gas is around 30 times more potent, as a greenhouse gas, than the same volume of carbon dioxide.

“There is evidence that climate change, and warming temperatures in particular, are impacting some infectious diseases and increasing their prevalence”

The long-term consequences of any of these changes are difficult to foresee. British scientists report in the journal Global Change Biology that they searched the fine detail of global temperature, cloud cover, humidity and rainfall worldwide from 1983 to 2017 for any significant pattern of change, and found one.

Over more than half the terrestrial surface of the planet, there was a mean annual difference of at least 0.25°C between daytime and night-time warming.

In some places, days warmed more swiftly than nights. But disproportionately greater night-time warming happened over an area more than twice as large.

The agency at work appeared to be cloud cover: more clouds mean a cooler surface in daylight but a more effective blanket to retain warmth at night. Clear skies tend to mean hotter days and colder nights.

“We demonstrate that greater night-time warming is associated with climate becoming wetter, and this been shown to have important consequences for plant growth, and how species such as insects and mammals interact,” said Daniel Cox of Exeter University, UK, who led the research.

More ice-free lakes

“Conversely, we show that greater daytime warming is associated with drier conditions, combined with greater levels of overall warming, which increases vulnerability to heat stress and dehydration. Species that are only active at night or during the day will be particularly affected.”

Freezing winters play a vital role in the life of a northern lake. Canadian scientists report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they analysed almost eight decades of data − from 1939 to 2016 − for 122 lakes in Asia, Europe and America: the lakes included Baikal in Siberia, Geneva in Switzerland and Balaton in Hungary, Champlain and Michigan near the US- Canadian border, and Suwa in Japan, where records extend back to 1443.

They found that ice-free years have become three times more frequent since 1978, and 11% experienced at least one completely ice-free year since 1939. The trend was the same, everywhere they looked.

Lake ice is also vulnerable to rising heat. It is important to the winter recreation industry. It also plays a vital role in lake ecology. Without a sheath of winter ice, lakes stay warmer and stratify earlier to become more vulnerable to toxic algal blooms: this in turn is bad for fish, and for swimmers.

“Lake ice is becoming increasingly absent,” said Alessandro Filazzola of York University, Toronto, who led the study. “Even under low-carbon emissions scenarios, we’re going to have ice-free events.”

Methane’s rapid rise

Methane is a relatively short-lived but highly potent greenhouse gas: in the past decade it has increased rapidly in the atmosphere. About half of this increase comes from farm livestock.

US researchers report in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution that they looked at sheep studies to find that animals infected with intestinal worms produced up to 33% more methane per kilogram of food than uninfected animals. Dairy cows with mastitis − a bacterial infection − produce 8% more methane per litre of milk than uninfected animals.

Global livestock production could increase at the rate of 2.7% a year, according to UN forecasts. If so, between 2017 and 2050 methane production will soar by more than 20%. Throw parasitic worm infections into the forecasts and methane emissions from livestock could climb by up to 82% in the same period.

“There is evidence that climate change, and warming temperatures in particular, are impacting some infectious diseases and increasing their prevalence,” said Vanessa Ezenwa of the University of Georgia, first author.

“If that’s happening for livestock diseases, and simultaneously higher prevalence is triggering increased methane release, you could end up with what we call a vicious cycle.” − Climate News Network

Nights are warmer. So are northern lakes. And farm livestock are at greater risk of disease, thanks to rising heat.

LONDON, 20 October, 2020 − Global warming has already begun to alter the world perceptibly, with rising heat changing daily life for millions of people.

Over more than half the planet’s land surface, nights are now warming at a rate faster than the days, with unpredictable consequences for plant and animal life.

Warmer winters now mean that in Europe, Asia and North America, lakes that would once have frozen over are now increasingly sometimes ice-free even at the darkest moments of the year.

And ever-higher temperatures encourage the spread of infectious diseases, and unexpectedly with that, the hazard of yet more warming.

Increasing parasitic activity among farm animals could mean that infected cattle, sheep and goats can produce up to a third more methane. This natural gas is around 30 times more potent, as a greenhouse gas, than the same volume of carbon dioxide.

“There is evidence that climate change, and warming temperatures in particular, are impacting some infectious diseases and increasing their prevalence”

The long-term consequences of any of these changes are difficult to foresee. British scientists report in the journal Global Change Biology that they searched the fine detail of global temperature, cloud cover, humidity and rainfall worldwide from 1983 to 2017 for any significant pattern of change, and found one.

Over more than half the terrestrial surface of the planet, there was a mean annual difference of at least 0.25°C between daytime and night-time warming.

In some places, days warmed more swiftly than nights. But disproportionately greater night-time warming happened over an area more than twice as large.

The agency at work appeared to be cloud cover: more clouds mean a cooler surface in daylight but a more effective blanket to retain warmth at night. Clear skies tend to mean hotter days and colder nights.

“We demonstrate that greater night-time warming is associated with climate becoming wetter, and this been shown to have important consequences for plant growth, and how species such as insects and mammals interact,” said Daniel Cox of Exeter University, UK, who led the research.

More ice-free lakes

“Conversely, we show that greater daytime warming is associated with drier conditions, combined with greater levels of overall warming, which increases vulnerability to heat stress and dehydration. Species that are only active at night or during the day will be particularly affected.”

Freezing winters play a vital role in the life of a northern lake. Canadian scientists report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they analysed almost eight decades of data − from 1939 to 2016 − for 122 lakes in Asia, Europe and America: the lakes included Baikal in Siberia, Geneva in Switzerland and Balaton in Hungary, Champlain and Michigan near the US- Canadian border, and Suwa in Japan, where records extend back to 1443.

They found that ice-free years have become three times more frequent since 1978, and 11% experienced at least one completely ice-free year since 1939. The trend was the same, everywhere they looked.

Lake ice is also vulnerable to rising heat. It is important to the winter recreation industry. It also plays a vital role in lake ecology. Without a sheath of winter ice, lakes stay warmer and stratify earlier to become more vulnerable to toxic algal blooms: this in turn is bad for fish, and for swimmers.

“Lake ice is becoming increasingly absent,” said Alessandro Filazzola of York University, Toronto, who led the study. “Even under low-carbon emissions scenarios, we’re going to have ice-free events.”

Methane’s rapid rise

Methane is a relatively short-lived but highly potent greenhouse gas: in the past decade it has increased rapidly in the atmosphere. About half of this increase comes from farm livestock.

US researchers report in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution that they looked at sheep studies to find that animals infected with intestinal worms produced up to 33% more methane per kilogram of food than uninfected animals. Dairy cows with mastitis − a bacterial infection − produce 8% more methane per litre of milk than uninfected animals.

Global livestock production could increase at the rate of 2.7% a year, according to UN forecasts. If so, between 2017 and 2050 methane production will soar by more than 20%. Throw parasitic worm infections into the forecasts and methane emissions from livestock could climb by up to 82% in the same period.

“There is evidence that climate change, and warming temperatures in particular, are impacting some infectious diseases and increasing their prevalence,” said Vanessa Ezenwa of the University of Georgia, first author.

“If that’s happening for livestock diseases, and simultaneously higher prevalence is triggering increased methane release, you could end up with what we call a vicious cycle.” − Climate News Network

Fracking’s methane leaks drive climate heat

One likely cause of the inexorable rise in global heat is fracking’s methane leaks from the shale gas industry.

LONDON, 14 August, 2019 − An atmospheric methane rise that will speed up global temperature rise is probably being caused mainly by the gas industry’s fracking methane leaks in North America, a new study says.

The analysis, confirming environmentalists’ worst fears about fracking, is a serious blow to the industry, which claims the gas it produces is cleaner than coal and is needed in the interim before renewables can replace fossil fuels.

The study is the work of a scientist from Cornell University in the US who has examined the rapid rise in methane concentrations in the atmosphere since 2008. He has found that the gas’s carbon composition has changed.

His research suggests that methane from biological sources such as cows and bogs has less carbon-13 relative to carbon-12 (denoting the weight of the carbon atom at the centre of the methane molecule) than does methane from conventional natural gas and other fossil fuels such as coal.

The conclusion is that the process of forcing chemicals and water into rock to release gas – the process known as fracking – causes the increased methane emissions. The fracking industry has boomed, and the “signature” of the carbon in the atmosphere points directly to that as the cause.

“If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate. It goes away pretty quickly. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming”

The scientist, Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell, said: “This recent increase in methane is massive. It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen, and shale gas is a major player.” His study is published in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

Professor Howarth said about two thirds of all new gas production over the last decade had been shale gas from the US and Canada. Previous studies had concluded erroneously that biological sources were the cause of rising methane, but the analysis of the gas showed it came from fracking.

Atmospheric methane levels rose during the last two decades of the 20th century but then levelled off for about a decade. Then they increased dramatically from 2008 to 2014, from about 570 teragrams (570 billion tonnes) annually to about 595 teragrams, because of global human-caused methane emissions in the last 11 years.

Methane is an intense but short-lived contributor to climate change. It traps heat in the atmosphere far more efficiently than carbon dioxide can, but over a much shorter period, because it breaks down quickly and can disperse completely in a few years.

Industry hopes dashed

Professor Howarth says: “If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate. It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.”

The findings will be a serious blow to the hopes of the fracking industry to expand into Europe and other parts of the world. Already there is considerable resistance to fracking, and it has been banned in some EU countries, including France, Germany and Ireland.

But others − including the United Kingdom, which has recently declared a climate emergency − have encouraged fracking, despite growing public opposition.

The fact that fracking is now suspected of causing climate change to accelerate will make it extremely hard for governments to continue to encourage the industry. − Climate News Network

One likely cause of the inexorable rise in global heat is fracking’s methane leaks from the shale gas industry.

LONDON, 14 August, 2019 − An atmospheric methane rise that will speed up global temperature rise is probably being caused mainly by the gas industry’s fracking methane leaks in North America, a new study says.

The analysis, confirming environmentalists’ worst fears about fracking, is a serious blow to the industry, which claims the gas it produces is cleaner than coal and is needed in the interim before renewables can replace fossil fuels.

The study is the work of a scientist from Cornell University in the US who has examined the rapid rise in methane concentrations in the atmosphere since 2008. He has found that the gas’s carbon composition has changed.

His research suggests that methane from biological sources such as cows and bogs has less carbon-13 relative to carbon-12 (denoting the weight of the carbon atom at the centre of the methane molecule) than does methane from conventional natural gas and other fossil fuels such as coal.

The conclusion is that the process of forcing chemicals and water into rock to release gas – the process known as fracking – causes the increased methane emissions. The fracking industry has boomed, and the “signature” of the carbon in the atmosphere points directly to that as the cause.

“If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate. It goes away pretty quickly. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming”

The scientist, Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell, said: “This recent increase in methane is massive. It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen, and shale gas is a major player.” His study is published in Biogeosciences, a journal of the European Geosciences Union.

Professor Howarth said about two thirds of all new gas production over the last decade had been shale gas from the US and Canada. Previous studies had concluded erroneously that biological sources were the cause of rising methane, but the analysis of the gas showed it came from fracking.

Atmospheric methane levels rose during the last two decades of the 20th century but then levelled off for about a decade. Then they increased dramatically from 2008 to 2014, from about 570 teragrams (570 billion tonnes) annually to about 595 teragrams, because of global human-caused methane emissions in the last 11 years.

Methane is an intense but short-lived contributor to climate change. It traps heat in the atmosphere far more efficiently than carbon dioxide can, but over a much shorter period, because it breaks down quickly and can disperse completely in a few years.

Industry hopes dashed

Professor Howarth says: “If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate. It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.”

The findings will be a serious blow to the hopes of the fracking industry to expand into Europe and other parts of the world. Already there is considerable resistance to fracking, and it has been banned in some EU countries, including France, Germany and Ireland.

But others − including the United Kingdom, which has recently declared a climate emergency − have encouraged fracking, despite growing public opposition.

The fact that fracking is now suspected of causing climate change to accelerate will make it extremely hard for governments to continue to encourage the industry. − Climate News Network

Early rain as Arctic warms means more methane

As spring advances, so does the rain to warm the permafrost. It means more methane can get into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming.

LONDON, 18 February, 2019 − As the global temperature steadily rises, it ensures that levels of one of the most potent greenhouse gases are increasing in a way new to science: the planet will have to reckon with more methane than expected.

Researchers who monitored one bog for three years in the Alaskan permafrost have identified yet another instance of what engineers call positive feedback. They found that global warming meant earlier springs and with that, earlier spring rains.

And as a consequence, the influx of warm water on what had previously been frozen ground triggered a biological frenzy that sent methane emissions soaring.

One stretch of wetland in a forest of black spruce in the Alaskan interior stepped up its emissions of natural gas (another name for methane) by 30%. Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’”

As a consequence, climate scientists may have to return yet again to the vexed question of the carbon budget, in their calculations of how fast the world will warm as humans burn more fossil fuels, to set up ever more rapid global warming and climate change, which will in turn accelerate the thawing of the permafrost.

The evidence so far comes from a detailed study of water, energy and carbon traffic from just one wetland. But other teams of scientists have repeatedly expressed concern about the integrity of the northern hemisphere permafrost and the vast stores of carbon preserved in the frozen soils, beneath the shallow layer that comes to life with each Arctic spring.

“We saw the plants going crazy and methane emissions going bonkers,” said Rebecca Neumann, an environmental engineer at the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study. “2016 had above average rainfall, but so did 2014. So what was different about this year?”

What mattered was when the rain fell: it fell earlier, when the ground was still colder than the air. The warmer water saturated the frozen forest, flowed into the bog, and created a local permafrost thaw in anoxic conditions: the subterranean microbial communities responded by converting the once-frozen organic matter into a highly effective greenhouse gas.

Alarm rises

“It’d be the bottom of the barrel in terms of energy production for them,” Dr Neumann said. “The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’.”

As global average temperature levels creep up, so does alarm about the state of the vast tracts of permafrost, home to huge stores of frozen carbon in the form of semi-decayed plant material that could be released into the atmosphere to fuel further global warming, with devastating consequences.

Spring has been arriving earlier everywhere in the northern hemisphere, including the Arctic, with unpredictable impacts on high latitude ecosystems.

The permafrost itself has been identified as a vulnerable region, change in which could tip the planet into a new and unpredictable climate regime, and geographers only this year have started to assess the direct hazard to the communities that live in the high latitudes as once-solid ground turns to slush under their feet.

More evaporation

Much more difficult to assess is how the steady attrition of the permafrost plays out in terms of the traffic of carbon between rocks, ocean, atmosphere and living things: researchers are still teasing out the roles of all the agencies at work, including subterranean microbes.

In a warmer world, evaporation will increase. Warmer air has a greater capacity for water vapour. In the end, it means more rain will fall. If it falls in spring or early summer, the research from one marshland in Alaska seems to suggest, more methane will escape into the atmosphere.

Right now, the rewards of the study are academic. They throw just a little more light on the subtle machinery of weather and climate. The test is whether what happens in one instance is likely to happen in other, similar terrain around the high latitudes.

“The ability of rain to transport thermal energy into soils has been under-appreciated,” Dr Neumann said. “Our study shows that by affecting soil temperature and methane emissions, rain can increase the ability of thawing permafrost to warm the climate.” − Climate News Network

As spring advances, so does the rain to warm the permafrost. It means more methane can get into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming.

LONDON, 18 February, 2019 − As the global temperature steadily rises, it ensures that levels of one of the most potent greenhouse gases are increasing in a way new to science: the planet will have to reckon with more methane than expected.

Researchers who monitored one bog for three years in the Alaskan permafrost have identified yet another instance of what engineers call positive feedback. They found that global warming meant earlier springs and with that, earlier spring rains.

And as a consequence, the influx of warm water on what had previously been frozen ground triggered a biological frenzy that sent methane emissions soaring.

One stretch of wetland in a forest of black spruce in the Alaskan interior stepped up its emissions of natural gas (another name for methane) by 30%. Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’”

As a consequence, climate scientists may have to return yet again to the vexed question of the carbon budget, in their calculations of how fast the world will warm as humans burn more fossil fuels, to set up ever more rapid global warming and climate change, which will in turn accelerate the thawing of the permafrost.

The evidence so far comes from a detailed study of water, energy and carbon traffic from just one wetland. But other teams of scientists have repeatedly expressed concern about the integrity of the northern hemisphere permafrost and the vast stores of carbon preserved in the frozen soils, beneath the shallow layer that comes to life with each Arctic spring.

“We saw the plants going crazy and methane emissions going bonkers,” said Rebecca Neumann, an environmental engineer at the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study. “2016 had above average rainfall, but so did 2014. So what was different about this year?”

What mattered was when the rain fell: it fell earlier, when the ground was still colder than the air. The warmer water saturated the frozen forest, flowed into the bog, and created a local permafrost thaw in anoxic conditions: the subterranean microbial communities responded by converting the once-frozen organic matter into a highly effective greenhouse gas.

Alarm rises

“It’d be the bottom of the barrel in terms of energy production for them,” Dr Neumann said. “The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’.”

As global average temperature levels creep up, so does alarm about the state of the vast tracts of permafrost, home to huge stores of frozen carbon in the form of semi-decayed plant material that could be released into the atmosphere to fuel further global warming, with devastating consequences.

Spring has been arriving earlier everywhere in the northern hemisphere, including the Arctic, with unpredictable impacts on high latitude ecosystems.

The permafrost itself has been identified as a vulnerable region, change in which could tip the planet into a new and unpredictable climate regime, and geographers only this year have started to assess the direct hazard to the communities that live in the high latitudes as once-solid ground turns to slush under their feet.

More evaporation

Much more difficult to assess is how the steady attrition of the permafrost plays out in terms of the traffic of carbon between rocks, ocean, atmosphere and living things: researchers are still teasing out the roles of all the agencies at work, including subterranean microbes.

In a warmer world, evaporation will increase. Warmer air has a greater capacity for water vapour. In the end, it means more rain will fall. If it falls in spring or early summer, the research from one marshland in Alaska seems to suggest, more methane will escape into the atmosphere.

Right now, the rewards of the study are academic. They throw just a little more light on the subtle machinery of weather and climate. The test is whether what happens in one instance is likely to happen in other, similar terrain around the high latitudes.

“The ability of rain to transport thermal energy into soils has been under-appreciated,” Dr Neumann said. “Our study shows that by affecting soil temperature and methane emissions, rain can increase the ability of thawing permafrost to warm the climate.” − Climate News Network

Oil’s methane emissions higher than feared

methane emissions

New study shows that oil production can result in methane emissions up to twice as high as estimated by ‘simplistic’ data collection systems.

LONDON, 6 February, 2017 – Global methane emissions from oil production between 1980 and 2012 were far higher than previously thought – in some cases, as much as double the amount previously estimated, according to a new scientific study

The reason for the discrepancy is simple. The author of the study − which also includes emissions of another gas, ethane − says it is the first to take into account different production management systems and geological conditions around the world.

Lena Höglund-Isaksson, senior research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria, describes the old figures, which were based on arguing that what happened in North American oilfields applied equally to the rest of the world, as “rather simplistic”.

The IIASA study, published in Environmental Research Letters journal, is another reminder that climate science – like all science – is only as dependable as the data on which it relies.

In a system as complex as the atmosphere, faulty data can have far-reaching consequences.

Potent greenhouse gas

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas − the most important contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. There is now international agreement that methane is 34 times more potent than CO2 over a century, but 84 times more over a much shorter timespan – just 20 years.

Yet while methane concentrations in the atmosphere can easily be measured, it is much harder to establish how much the different sources, whether human or natural, contribute to the total. This information is needed to work out how to reduce emissions.

Dr Höglund-Isaksson explains: “In an oil reservoir, there is a layer of gas above the oil that has a methane content of 50% to 85%. When you pump the oil to the surface, this associated gas will also escape.”

In oil production in North America, she says, almost all of this gas is recovered, and most of the small amount that is not will be flared to prevent leakage − and possible explosions. A very small amount is simply vented.

In other parts of the world, where gas recovery rates are lower, much larger quantities of methane emissions are released into the atmosphere.

“In an oil reservoir, there is a layer of gas above
the oil that has a methane content of 50% to 85%”

“Existing global bottom-up emission inventories of methane used rather simplistic approaches for estimating methane from oil production, merely taking the few direct measurements that exist from North American oil fields and scaling them with oil production worldwide,” says Dr Höglund-Isaksson.

(Bottom-up, in this context, involves multiplying the production of oil by the amount of methane released per unit of oil produced).

This approach left ample room for error, so she decided to find a new method to provide a better explanation for the global variations.

In the new study, Dr Höglund-Isaksson estimated global methane emissions from oil and gas systems in over 100 countries over a 32-year period, using country-specific data ranging from reported volumes of associated gas to satellite imagery that can show flaring.

She also used atmospheric measurements of ethane, a gas that is released along with methane and is easier to link more directly to oil and gas activities.

Dr Höglund-Isaksson found that global methane emissions, particularly in the 1980s, were as much as double previous estimates.

Russia’s methane emissions

The study also found that the Russian oil industry contributes a large amount to the methane emissions.

A decline in the Russian oil industry in the 1990s contributed to a global decline in emissions, which continued until the early 2000s. That was when methane recovery systems were becoming more common and also helping to reduce emissions.

But since 2005, emissions from oil and gas systems have remained fairly constant, which Dr Höglund-Isaksson says is probably linked to increasing shale gas production, which largely offsets emission reductions achieved through increased gas recovery.

She says that there is still uncertainty in the numbers, and that improving the data requires close collaboration between the scientific measurement community and the oil and gas industry to make more direct measurements available from different parts of the world.

The good news is that her research promises more accurate measurements of how much methane is in the atmosphere.

The less good news is that just how much is there appears to be increasing rapidly – faster than at any time this century. – Climate News Network

New study shows that oil production can result in methane emissions up to twice as high as estimated by ‘simplistic’ data collection systems.

LONDON, 6 February, 2017 – Global methane emissions from oil production between 1980 and 2012 were far higher than previously thought – in some cases, as much as double the amount previously estimated, according to a new scientific study

The reason for the discrepancy is simple. The author of the study − which also includes emissions of another gas, ethane − says it is the first to take into account different production management systems and geological conditions around the world.

Lena Höglund-Isaksson, senior research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria, describes the old figures, which were based on arguing that what happened in North American oilfields applied equally to the rest of the world, as “rather simplistic”.

The IIASA study, published in Environmental Research Letters journal, is another reminder that climate science – like all science – is only as dependable as the data on which it relies.

In a system as complex as the atmosphere, faulty data can have far-reaching consequences.

Potent greenhouse gas

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas − the most important contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. There is now international agreement that methane is 34 times more potent than CO2 over a century, but 84 times more over a much shorter timespan – just 20 years.

Yet while methane concentrations in the atmosphere can easily be measured, it is much harder to establish how much the different sources, whether human or natural, contribute to the total. This information is needed to work out how to reduce emissions.

Dr Höglund-Isaksson explains: “In an oil reservoir, there is a layer of gas above the oil that has a methane content of 50% to 85%. When you pump the oil to the surface, this associated gas will also escape.”

In oil production in North America, she says, almost all of this gas is recovered, and most of the small amount that is not will be flared to prevent leakage − and possible explosions. A very small amount is simply vented.

In other parts of the world, where gas recovery rates are lower, much larger quantities of methane emissions are released into the atmosphere.

“In an oil reservoir, there is a layer of gas above
the oil that has a methane content of 50% to 85%”

“Existing global bottom-up emission inventories of methane used rather simplistic approaches for estimating methane from oil production, merely taking the few direct measurements that exist from North American oil fields and scaling them with oil production worldwide,” says Dr Höglund-Isaksson.

(Bottom-up, in this context, involves multiplying the production of oil by the amount of methane released per unit of oil produced).

This approach left ample room for error, so she decided to find a new method to provide a better explanation for the global variations.

In the new study, Dr Höglund-Isaksson estimated global methane emissions from oil and gas systems in over 100 countries over a 32-year period, using country-specific data ranging from reported volumes of associated gas to satellite imagery that can show flaring.

She also used atmospheric measurements of ethane, a gas that is released along with methane and is easier to link more directly to oil and gas activities.

Dr Höglund-Isaksson found that global methane emissions, particularly in the 1980s, were as much as double previous estimates.

Russia’s methane emissions

The study also found that the Russian oil industry contributes a large amount to the methane emissions.

A decline in the Russian oil industry in the 1990s contributed to a global decline in emissions, which continued until the early 2000s. That was when methane recovery systems were becoming more common and also helping to reduce emissions.

But since 2005, emissions from oil and gas systems have remained fairly constant, which Dr Höglund-Isaksson says is probably linked to increasing shale gas production, which largely offsets emission reductions achieved through increased gas recovery.

She says that there is still uncertainty in the numbers, and that improving the data requires close collaboration between the scientific measurement community and the oil and gas industry to make more direct measurements available from different parts of the world.

The good news is that her research promises more accurate measurements of how much methane is in the atmosphere.

The less good news is that just how much is there appears to be increasing rapidly – faster than at any time this century. – Climate News Network

Methane’s rapid spurt risks climate curbs plan

A recent rapid rise in methane could damage global attempts to slow climate change through cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.

LONDON, 12 December, 2016 – One year ago today, with huge relief, scarcely able to believe their achievement, world leaders finally agreed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

But a bare 12 months later comes sobering news: atmospheric concentrations of another gas, methane, are growing faster than at any time in the last 20 years, putting further pressure on the historic Paris Agreement to deliver substantial cuts in emissions very soon.

Some scientists say the world now needs to change course and do more about methane to have a chance of keeping average global temperatures from rising by more than 2°C.

And one seasoned Arctic watcher says the changes there in the last decade are altering a system which has remained intact since the Ice Age.

Methane is the second major greenhouse gas, with agriculture accounting for 40% of emissions. Over a century it is 34 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (though far less abundant), but over 20 years methane is 84 times more potent than CO2

In an editorial in the journal Environmental Research Letters, an international team of scientists reports that methane concentrations in the air began to surge around 2007 and grew steeply in 2014 and 2015. In those two years concentrations rose by 10 or more parts per billion annually. In the early 2000s they had been rising by an annual average of 0.5 ppb.

Mitigation possible

The scientists say the reason for the spike is unclear, but they think it may be the consequence of emissions from agricultural sources and mainly around the tropics – possibly from farm sites like rice paddies and cattle pastures.

They say research shows that the growth of CO2 emissions has flattened out in recent years, just as methanes seem to be soaring. 

Rob Jackson, a co-author of the editorial and professor of earth system science at Stanford University, US, says the methane findings are worrisome but provide an immediate opportunity for mitigation that complements efforts for carbon dioxide.

He and his fellow authors helped to produce the 2016 Global Methane Budget, a comprehensive look at how methane flowed in and out of the atmosphere from 2000 to 2012 because of human activities and other factors. The budget is published by the Global Carbon Project, a research initiative of Future Earth.

“The methane being released now, at an accelerating rate, could easily negate the carbon reductions we are making” 

Peter Wadhams, emeritus professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, says scientists are now seeing large plumes of methane escaping from the shallow seas north of Siberia. These emissions, and those from the thawing tundra, are contributing to the sudden rise in methane concentrations.

Professor Wadhams devotes part of his new book A Farewell to Ice  to the subject. He told the Climate News Network: “The methane being released now, at an accelerating rate, could easily negate the carbon reductions we are making.

“A Russian expedition which returned from the Arctic recently estimates there’s so much methane in offshore sediments that if it all escaped it would mean an immediate temperature rise of about 0.6°C. And there’s quite a big chance of a total melt.

“I’ve been going to the Arctic for over 40 years, and this is entirely new. The melting sea ice   has allowed the water temperature to rise to 7°C since about 2005, affecting the permafrost which had till then remained unchanged since the Ice Age. The methane plumes are an amazing sight, a mass of bubbles erupting from the sea surface.”

And releases of methane from the sea floor are not restricted to the shallow Arctic waters: one of the places they are occurring as well is in the north Pacific

Rapid reversal

Methane comes from a variety of sources, including wild areas like marshes and wetlands, and fossil fuel exploration. About 60% of the gas which enters the atmosphere annually comes from human activities, notably agriculture.

Marielle Saunois, lead author of the ERL paper, from Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University (UVSQ), France, says the world should do more about methane emissions: If we want to stay below two degrees temperature increase, we should not follow this track and need to make a rapid turn-around.

Saunois says that, on available data, she and her colleagues think agricultural growth is the likelier source, at least for now, of rising methane than expanded natural gas drilling.

When it comes to methane, 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, Professor Jackson says. The situation certainly isnt hopeless. Its a real opportunity. Climate News Network

A recent rapid rise in methane could damage global attempts to slow climate change through cuts in carbon dioxide emissions.

LONDON, 12 December, 2016 – One year ago today, with huge relief, scarcely able to believe their achievement, world leaders finally agreed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.

But a bare 12 months later comes sobering news: atmospheric concentrations of another gas, methane, are growing faster than at any time in the last 20 years, putting further pressure on the historic Paris Agreement to deliver substantial cuts in emissions very soon.

Some scientists say the world now needs to change course and do more about methane to have a chance of keeping average global temperatures from rising by more than 2°C.

And one seasoned Arctic watcher says the changes there in the last decade are altering a system which has remained intact since the Ice Age.

Methane is the second major greenhouse gas, with agriculture accounting for 40% of emissions. Over a century it is 34 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (though far less abundant), but over 20 years methane is 84 times more potent than CO2

In an editorial in the journal Environmental Research Letters, an international team of scientists reports that methane concentrations in the air began to surge around 2007 and grew steeply in 2014 and 2015. In those two years concentrations rose by 10 or more parts per billion annually. In the early 2000s they had been rising by an annual average of 0.5 ppb.

Mitigation possible

The scientists say the reason for the spike is unclear, but they think it may be the consequence of emissions from agricultural sources and mainly around the tropics – possibly from farm sites like rice paddies and cattle pastures.

They say research shows that the growth of CO2 emissions has flattened out in recent years, just as methanes seem to be soaring. 

Rob Jackson, a co-author of the editorial and professor of earth system science at Stanford University, US, says the methane findings are worrisome but provide an immediate opportunity for mitigation that complements efforts for carbon dioxide.

He and his fellow authors helped to produce the 2016 Global Methane Budget, a comprehensive look at how methane flowed in and out of the atmosphere from 2000 to 2012 because of human activities and other factors. The budget is published by the Global Carbon Project, a research initiative of Future Earth.

“The methane being released now, at an accelerating rate, could easily negate the carbon reductions we are making” 

Peter Wadhams, emeritus professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, says scientists are now seeing large plumes of methane escaping from the shallow seas north of Siberia. These emissions, and those from the thawing tundra, are contributing to the sudden rise in methane concentrations.

Professor Wadhams devotes part of his new book A Farewell to Ice  to the subject. He told the Climate News Network: “The methane being released now, at an accelerating rate, could easily negate the carbon reductions we are making.

“A Russian expedition which returned from the Arctic recently estimates there’s so much methane in offshore sediments that if it all escaped it would mean an immediate temperature rise of about 0.6°C. And there’s quite a big chance of a total melt.

“I’ve been going to the Arctic for over 40 years, and this is entirely new. The melting sea ice   has allowed the water temperature to rise to 7°C since about 2005, affecting the permafrost which had till then remained unchanged since the Ice Age. The methane plumes are an amazing sight, a mass of bubbles erupting from the sea surface.”

And releases of methane from the sea floor are not restricted to the shallow Arctic waters: one of the places they are occurring as well is in the north Pacific

Rapid reversal

Methane comes from a variety of sources, including wild areas like marshes and wetlands, and fossil fuel exploration. About 60% of the gas which enters the atmosphere annually comes from human activities, notably agriculture.

Marielle Saunois, lead author of the ERL paper, from Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines University (UVSQ), France, says the world should do more about methane emissions: If we want to stay below two degrees temperature increase, we should not follow this track and need to make a rapid turn-around.

Saunois says that, on available data, she and her colleagues think agricultural growth is the likelier source, at least for now, of rising methane than expanded natural gas drilling.

When it comes to methane, 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, Professor Jackson says. The situation certainly isnt hopeless. Its a real opportunity. Climate News Network

Useful waste offers win-win benefits

An unsung success story in the switch to renewable energy is the use of waste to produce gas – and a valuable by-product.

LONDON, 2 February, 2016 – The future is increasingly bright for renewable energy, with the US aiming to cut the price of solar photovoltaics by 75% between 2010 and 2020. Denmark plans to obtain 50% of its energy from wind just five years from now.

But one form of renewable energy – and one which attracts few headlines – manages to create two useful products at the same time, and is making a growing contribution to combatting climate change.

The medieval alchemists who sought to turn base metal into gold would have thrilled at   chemistry that let them turn waste into both fuel and fertiliser. Their twenty-first century successors have discovered the secret of doing exactly that. 

Unwanted food, animal waste, municipal rubbish, crop and forestry residues, sewage and dozens of other left-overs of civilisation can and are now being turned into methane to generate electricity, provide district heating and to fuel road vehicles.

Big contribution

This largely unheralded revolution takes different forms across the world, mostly because governments set their own rules to encourage the technology, and also because local circumstances provide contrasting piles of waste. But in every case the waste can be converted into gas for use as fuel.

Although the technology is only part of the solution to climate change, the European Biogas  Association estimates that over time it should be able to replace 30% of current natural gas consumption in Europe.

The technology is roughly the same whatever the size of the plant or its location. Biogas plants use microbes to eat waste in an oxygen-free environment to produce methane, and leave fertiliser or soil conditioner as a useful by-product. The plants vary from small household types, very popular in China and India, to farm plants and larger-scale municipal installations in Europe.

Poor relation

The potential of wind and solar power for replacing coal to produce electricity is familiar;  the biogas revolution is hardly recognised. The first report on biogas produced by the International Gas Union went virtually unreported.

Yet its details included, for example: “One bag of food waste composted to biogas is enough to power a gas-driven car for almost two kilometres”, and: “A bus with 55 passengers can run for 1,000 km on the food waste produced by its passengers each year.”

Biogas is produced naturally in environments with no oxygen: swamps, for example, rice paddies and the stomachs of ruminant animals like cattle. An anaerobic digester’s microbes produce the methane by eating the organic content of the waste, leaving a nutrient-rich fertiliser as the residue.

Germany and China are the world leaders in turning farm waste into gas, with 8,000 and 24,000 farm-based plants respectively. More surprising perhaps is the fact that China has built 42 million small biogas plants in a decade to turn village waste into fuel.

Compatible mix

Usually the methane produced in these digesters is fed into generators or small power stations on site and used locally. But if it is further purified the gas can simply be fed into a pipeline and mixed with natural gas.

In Sweden, which aims by 2030 to replace fossil fuels in transport with biogas, the number of gas-driven vehicles has doubled to 50,000 in the last five years. One Swedish advance is to cool the gas to -163°C until it liquefies, reducing its volume by 600 times and making it a perfect fuel for large lorries. Demand for biogas outstrips supply in much of the country, which is now using its ample supplies of forestry waste.

Elsewhere, for example in the UK and South Korea, much biogas comes from old rubbish dumps where the methane they emit is piped to mini-power stations on site. More recently, to cut down on waste, local authorities in the UK have begun collecting thrown-away food so that purpose-built anaerobic digesters can convert it into gas and fertiliser.

Scotland, although part of the UK, has a devolved government which recognises that stronger regulation can drive the biogas revolution. – Climate News Network

An unsung success story in the switch to renewable energy is the use of waste to produce gas – and a valuable by-product.

LONDON, 2 February, 2016 – The future is increasingly bright for renewable energy, with the US aiming to cut the price of solar photovoltaics by 75% between 2010 and 2020. Denmark plans to obtain 50% of its energy from wind just five years from now.

But one form of renewable energy – and one which attracts few headlines – manages to create two useful products at the same time, and is making a growing contribution to combatting climate change.

The medieval alchemists who sought to turn base metal into gold would have thrilled at   chemistry that let them turn waste into both fuel and fertiliser. Their twenty-first century successors have discovered the secret of doing exactly that. 

Unwanted food, animal waste, municipal rubbish, crop and forestry residues, sewage and dozens of other left-overs of civilisation can and are now being turned into methane to generate electricity, provide district heating and to fuel road vehicles.

Big contribution

This largely unheralded revolution takes different forms across the world, mostly because governments set their own rules to encourage the technology, and also because local circumstances provide contrasting piles of waste. But in every case the waste can be converted into gas for use as fuel.

Although the technology is only part of the solution to climate change, the European Biogas  Association estimates that over time it should be able to replace 30% of current natural gas consumption in Europe.

The technology is roughly the same whatever the size of the plant or its location. Biogas plants use microbes to eat waste in an oxygen-free environment to produce methane, and leave fertiliser or soil conditioner as a useful by-product. The plants vary from small household types, very popular in China and India, to farm plants and larger-scale municipal installations in Europe.

Poor relation

The potential of wind and solar power for replacing coal to produce electricity is familiar;  the biogas revolution is hardly recognised. The first report on biogas produced by the International Gas Union went virtually unreported.

Yet its details included, for example: “One bag of food waste composted to biogas is enough to power a gas-driven car for almost two kilometres”, and: “A bus with 55 passengers can run for 1,000 km on the food waste produced by its passengers each year.”

Biogas is produced naturally in environments with no oxygen: swamps, for example, rice paddies and the stomachs of ruminant animals like cattle. An anaerobic digester’s microbes produce the methane by eating the organic content of the waste, leaving a nutrient-rich fertiliser as the residue.

Germany and China are the world leaders in turning farm waste into gas, with 8,000 and 24,000 farm-based plants respectively. More surprising perhaps is the fact that China has built 42 million small biogas plants in a decade to turn village waste into fuel.

Compatible mix

Usually the methane produced in these digesters is fed into generators or small power stations on site and used locally. But if it is further purified the gas can simply be fed into a pipeline and mixed with natural gas.

In Sweden, which aims by 2030 to replace fossil fuels in transport with biogas, the number of gas-driven vehicles has doubled to 50,000 in the last five years. One Swedish advance is to cool the gas to -163°C until it liquefies, reducing its volume by 600 times and making it a perfect fuel for large lorries. Demand for biogas outstrips supply in much of the country, which is now using its ample supplies of forestry waste.

Elsewhere, for example in the UK and South Korea, much biogas comes from old rubbish dumps where the methane they emit is piped to mini-power stations on site. More recently, to cut down on waste, local authorities in the UK have begun collecting thrown-away food so that purpose-built anaerobic digesters can convert it into gas and fertiliser.

Scotland, although part of the UK, has a devolved government which recognises that stronger regulation can drive the biogas revolution. – Climate News Network

Arctic methane emissions persist in winter

Methane, a key greenhouse gas, is released from Arctic soils not only in the short summer period but during the bitterly cold winters too. 

LONDON, 22 December, 2015 – The quantity of methane leaking from the frozen soil during the long Arctic winters is probably much greater than climate models estimate, scientists have found.

They say at least half of annual methane emissions occur in the cold months from September to May, and that drier, upland tundra can emit more methane than wetlands.

The multinational team, led by San Diego State University (SDSU) in the US and including colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Sheffield and the Open University in the UK, have published their conclusion, which challenges critical assumptions in current global climate models, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is about 25 times more powerful per molecule than carbon dioxide over a century, but more than 84 times over 20 years. The methane in the Arctic tundra comes primarily from organic matter trapped in soil which thaws seasonally and is decomposed by microbes.

It seeps naturally from the soil over the course of the year, but climate change can warm the soil enough to release more methane from organic matter that is currently stable in the permafrost

“Virtually all the climate models assume there’s no or very little emission of methane when the ground is frozen. That assumption is incorrect”

Scientists have for some years been accurately measuring Arctic methane emissions and incorporating the results into their climate models. But crucially, the SDSU team says, almost all of these measurements have been obtained during the Arctic’s short summer.

Its long cold period has been largely “overlooked and ignored,” according to Walter Oechel of SDSU, with most researchers thinking that, because the ground is frozen solid during the cold months, methane emissions practically shut down for the winter.

“Virtually all the climate models assume there’s no or very little emission of methane when the ground is frozen,” he says. “That assumption is incorrect.”

The authors say the water trapped in the soil doesn’t freeze completely at 0°C. The top layer of the ground – known as the active layer – thaws in the summer and refreezes in the winter, and it experiences a kind of sandwiching effect as it freezes.

When temperatures are around 0°C (called “the zero curtain”) the top and bottom of the active layer begin to freeze, but the middle remains insulated. Micro-organisms in this unfrozen layer continue to break down organic matter and emit methane many months into the Arctic winter.

Dual approach

To find out how much methane is emitted during the winter, the researchers used both ground-based and airborne methods.

The ground-based researchers recorded methane emissions from five sampling towers in Alaska over two summer-autumn-winter cycles between June 2013 and January 2015 and found that a major part of winter emissions was recorded when temperatures hovered near the zero curtain.

“This is extremely relevant for the Arctic ecosystem, as the zero curtain period continues from September until the end of December, lasting as long as or longer than the entire summer season,” said Donatella Zona, the study’s lead author.

“These results are the opposite of what modellers have been assuming, which is that the majority of the methane emissions occur during the warm summer months while the cold-season methane contribution is nearly zero.”

Data confirmed

The researchers also found that during the cold season methane emissions were higher at the drier, upland tundra sites than in the wetlands. Upland tundra had previously been assumed to contribute a negligible amount of methane, Zona said.

To test whether the site-specific sampling was typical of methane emissions across the Arctic, the researchers compared their results with measurements recorded during flights made by NASA’s Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE). 

The data from the ground-based sites proved well-matched with the larger-scale aircraft measurements, which showed that large areas of Arctic tundra and boreal forest continued to emit high levels of methane to the atmosphere long after the surface soil had frozen.

The team also used satellite microwave sensor measurements to develop regional maps of surface water cover, including the timing, extent and duration of seasonal flooding and drying of the region’s wetlands. This showed that the big methane-emitting areas were in the drier tundra. – Climate News Network

Methane, a key greenhouse gas, is released from Arctic soils not only in the short summer period but during the bitterly cold winters too. 

LONDON, 22 December, 2015 – The quantity of methane leaking from the frozen soil during the long Arctic winters is probably much greater than climate models estimate, scientists have found.

They say at least half of annual methane emissions occur in the cold months from September to May, and that drier, upland tundra can emit more methane than wetlands.

The multinational team, led by San Diego State University (SDSU) in the US and including colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the University of Sheffield and the Open University in the UK, have published their conclusion, which challenges critical assumptions in current global climate models, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is about 25 times more powerful per molecule than carbon dioxide over a century, but more than 84 times over 20 years. The methane in the Arctic tundra comes primarily from organic matter trapped in soil which thaws seasonally and is decomposed by microbes.

It seeps naturally from the soil over the course of the year, but climate change can warm the soil enough to release more methane from organic matter that is currently stable in the permafrost

“Virtually all the climate models assume there’s no or very little emission of methane when the ground is frozen. That assumption is incorrect”

Scientists have for some years been accurately measuring Arctic methane emissions and incorporating the results into their climate models. But crucially, the SDSU team says, almost all of these measurements have been obtained during the Arctic’s short summer.

Its long cold period has been largely “overlooked and ignored,” according to Walter Oechel of SDSU, with most researchers thinking that, because the ground is frozen solid during the cold months, methane emissions practically shut down for the winter.

“Virtually all the climate models assume there’s no or very little emission of methane when the ground is frozen,” he says. “That assumption is incorrect.”

The authors say the water trapped in the soil doesn’t freeze completely at 0°C. The top layer of the ground – known as the active layer – thaws in the summer and refreezes in the winter, and it experiences a kind of sandwiching effect as it freezes.

When temperatures are around 0°C (called “the zero curtain”) the top and bottom of the active layer begin to freeze, but the middle remains insulated. Micro-organisms in this unfrozen layer continue to break down organic matter and emit methane many months into the Arctic winter.

Dual approach

To find out how much methane is emitted during the winter, the researchers used both ground-based and airborne methods.

The ground-based researchers recorded methane emissions from five sampling towers in Alaska over two summer-autumn-winter cycles between June 2013 and January 2015 and found that a major part of winter emissions was recorded when temperatures hovered near the zero curtain.

“This is extremely relevant for the Arctic ecosystem, as the zero curtain period continues from September until the end of December, lasting as long as or longer than the entire summer season,” said Donatella Zona, the study’s lead author.

“These results are the opposite of what modellers have been assuming, which is that the majority of the methane emissions occur during the warm summer months while the cold-season methane contribution is nearly zero.”

Data confirmed

The researchers also found that during the cold season methane emissions were higher at the drier, upland tundra sites than in the wetlands. Upland tundra had previously been assumed to contribute a negligible amount of methane, Zona said.

To test whether the site-specific sampling was typical of methane emissions across the Arctic, the researchers compared their results with measurements recorded during flights made by NASA’s Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE). 

The data from the ground-based sites proved well-matched with the larger-scale aircraft measurements, which showed that large areas of Arctic tundra and boreal forest continued to emit high levels of methane to the atmosphere long after the surface soil had frozen.

The team also used satellite microwave sensor measurements to develop regional maps of surface water cover, including the timing, extent and duration of seasonal flooding and drying of the region’s wetlands. This showed that the big methane-emitting areas were in the drier tundra. – Climate News Network

Eat a plant and spare a tree

A less meat-intensive diet is essential for the sake of wildlife and forests and to slow climate change, says a report by UK-based researchers. LONDON, 31 August 2014 – Say goodbye to the steaks. Forget the foie gras. Put that pork chop away (assuming you can afford any of them). UK-based scientists say eating less meat is a vital part of tackling climate change. A study published in Nature Climate Change says that on present trends food production on its own will reach – and perhaps exceed – the global targets for total greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. Healthier diets – defined as meaning lower meat and dairy consumption – and reduced food waste are among the solutions needed to ensure food security and avoid dangerous climate change, the study says. More people, with more of us wanting meat-heavy Western diets, mean increasing farm yields will not meet the demands of an expected 9.6 billion humans. So we shall have to cultivate more land. This, the authors say, will mean more deforestation, more carbon emissions and further biodiversity loss, while extra livestock will raise methane levels.

Inefficient converters

Without radical changes, they expect cropland to expand by 42% by 2050 and fertiliser use by 45% (over 2009 levels). A further tenth of the world’s pristine tropical forests would disappear by mid-century. All this would cause GHG emissions from food production to increase by almost 80% by 2050 – roughly equal to the target GHG emissions by then for the entire global economy. They think halving food waste and managing demand for particularly environmentally-damaging food products – mainly from animals –  “might mitigate some” GHG emissions. “It is imperative to find ways to achieve global food security without expanding crop or pastureland,” said the lead researcher, Bojana Bajzelj, from the University of Cambridge’s department of engineering, who wrote the study with colleagues from Cambridge’s departments of geography and plant sciences and the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences. “The average efficiency of livestock converting plant feed to meat is less than 3%, and as we eat more meat, more arable cultivation is turned over to producing feedstock for animals… Agricultural practices are not necessarily at fault here – but our choice of food is.”

Squandered resources

This measure of efficiency is based on the units used in the study, which are grams of carbon in the biomass material, plant or meat. The team created a model that compares different scenarios for 2050, including some based on maintaining current trends. Another examines the closing of “yield gaps”. These gaps, between crop yields from best practice farming and actual average yields, exist everywhere but are widest in developing countries – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The researchers advocate closing the gaps through sustainable intensification of farming. But even then projected food demand will still demand additional land and more water and fertilisers – so the impact on emissions and biodiversity remains. Food waste occurs at all stages in the food chain, caused in developing countries by poor storage and transport and in the north by wasteful consumption. This squanders resources, especially energy, the authors say.

“As well as encouraging sustainable agriculture, we need to re-think what we eat”

Yield gap closure alone still shows a GHG increase of just over 40% by 2050. Closing yield gaps and halving food waste shows emissions increasing by 2%. But with healthy diets added too, the model suggests that agricultural GHG levels could fall by 48% from their 2009 level. The team says replacing diets containing too much food, especially emission-intensive meat and dairy products, with an average balanced diet avoiding excessive consumption of sugars, fats, and meat products, significantly reduces pressures on the environment even further. It says this “average” balanced diet is “a relatively achievable goal for most. For example, the figures included two 85g portions of red meat and five eggs per week, as well as a portion of poultry a day.” Co-author Professor Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen said: “Unless we make some serious changes in food consumption trends, we would have to completely decarbonise the energy and industry sectors to stay within emissions budgets that avoid dangerous climate change. “That is practically impossible – so, as well as encouraging sustainable agriculture, we need to re-think what we eat.” – Climate News Network

A less meat-intensive diet is essential for the sake of wildlife and forests and to slow climate change, says a report by UK-based researchers. LONDON, 31 August 2014 – Say goodbye to the steaks. Forget the foie gras. Put that pork chop away (assuming you can afford any of them). UK-based scientists say eating less meat is a vital part of tackling climate change. A study published in Nature Climate Change says that on present trends food production on its own will reach – and perhaps exceed – the global targets for total greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. Healthier diets – defined as meaning lower meat and dairy consumption – and reduced food waste are among the solutions needed to ensure food security and avoid dangerous climate change, the study says. More people, with more of us wanting meat-heavy Western diets, mean increasing farm yields will not meet the demands of an expected 9.6 billion humans. So we shall have to cultivate more land. This, the authors say, will mean more deforestation, more carbon emissions and further biodiversity loss, while extra livestock will raise methane levels.

Inefficient converters

Without radical changes, they expect cropland to expand by 42% by 2050 and fertiliser use by 45% (over 2009 levels). A further tenth of the world’s pristine tropical forests would disappear by mid-century. All this would cause GHG emissions from food production to increase by almost 80% by 2050 – roughly equal to the target GHG emissions by then for the entire global economy. They think halving food waste and managing demand for particularly environmentally-damaging food products – mainly from animals –  “might mitigate some” GHG emissions. “It is imperative to find ways to achieve global food security without expanding crop or pastureland,” said the lead researcher, Bojana Bajzelj, from the University of Cambridge’s department of engineering, who wrote the study with colleagues from Cambridge’s departments of geography and plant sciences and the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences. “The average efficiency of livestock converting plant feed to meat is less than 3%, and as we eat more meat, more arable cultivation is turned over to producing feedstock for animals… Agricultural practices are not necessarily at fault here – but our choice of food is.”

Squandered resources

This measure of efficiency is based on the units used in the study, which are grams of carbon in the biomass material, plant or meat. The team created a model that compares different scenarios for 2050, including some based on maintaining current trends. Another examines the closing of “yield gaps”. These gaps, between crop yields from best practice farming and actual average yields, exist everywhere but are widest in developing countries – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The researchers advocate closing the gaps through sustainable intensification of farming. But even then projected food demand will still demand additional land and more water and fertilisers – so the impact on emissions and biodiversity remains. Food waste occurs at all stages in the food chain, caused in developing countries by poor storage and transport and in the north by wasteful consumption. This squanders resources, especially energy, the authors say.

“As well as encouraging sustainable agriculture, we need to re-think what we eat”

Yield gap closure alone still shows a GHG increase of just over 40% by 2050. Closing yield gaps and halving food waste shows emissions increasing by 2%. But with healthy diets added too, the model suggests that agricultural GHG levels could fall by 48% from their 2009 level. The team says replacing diets containing too much food, especially emission-intensive meat and dairy products, with an average balanced diet avoiding excessive consumption of sugars, fats, and meat products, significantly reduces pressures on the environment even further. It says this “average” balanced diet is “a relatively achievable goal for most. For example, the figures included two 85g portions of red meat and five eggs per week, as well as a portion of poultry a day.” Co-author Professor Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen said: “Unless we make some serious changes in food consumption trends, we would have to completely decarbonise the energy and industry sectors to stay within emissions budgets that avoid dangerous climate change. “That is practically impossible – so, as well as encouraging sustainable agriculture, we need to re-think what we eat.” – Climate News Network