Warming fuels rise in methane threat

Post-glacial lakes such as these in Stordalen, northern Sweden, are significant emitters of methane. Image: Jo Uhlbäck

Higher temperatures and permafrost thaw could cause an increase of up to 50 per cent in emissions of a key greenhouse gas from northern lakes and ponds by 2100.

LONDON, 6 January, 2016 – There is fresh concern among scientists over the rises they are detecting in one of the chief greenhouse gases, methane.

A team of researchers from universities in Sweden and the US says methane is increasing in the atmosphere fast enough for emissions of the gas possibly to rise by between 20% and 50% before the end of the century.

Over a century, methane is 25 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, the main gas contributing to global warming. But over a 20-year period, methane is 84 times more potent than CO2.

Many methane sources are poorly understood, including lakes at high northern latitudes. But the researchers hope this may change.

Water bodies

A study in Nature Geoscience describes how compiling previously reported measurements made at 733 northern water bodies − from small ponds formed by beavers to large lakes formed by permafrost thaw or ice-sheets – has enabled researchers to estimate emissions over large scales more accurately.

“The release of methane from northern lakes and ponds needs to be taken seriously,” says study leader Martin Wik, a PhD student at the Department of Geological Sciences and Bolin Centre for Climate Research, Stockholm University.

“These waters are significant, contemporary sources because they cover large parts of the landscape. They are also likely to emit even more methane in the future.”

“Efforts to reduce human-induced warming are even more urgent in order to minimise this type of feedback of natural greenhouse gas emissions”

Average temperatures in the Arctic are rising twice as fast as they are anywhere else in the world. At high northern latitudes, this warming means longer ice-free seasons. Together with permafrost thaw, this is likely to fuel methane release from lakes, potentially causing emissions to increase by between a fifth and a half by 2100.

Change on this scale would probably generate a positive feedback in future warming, causing emissions to increase still further.

 “This means that efforts to reduce human-induced warming are even more urgent in order to minimise this type of feedback of natural greenhouse gas emissions,” says a co-author of the study, David Bastviken, senior lecturer in environmental change at Linköping University. Sweden. “In a sense, every reduction in emissions from fossil fuels is a double victory.”

Faster than expected

Two reports published last month raised concerns that methane emissions could be increasing faster than expected.

The first found that the quantity of methane leaking from the frozen soil during the long Arctic winters is probably much greater than climate models estimate.

Another study by US scientists said lakes worldwide are warming by an average of more than 1°C every 30 years − faster than either the oceans or the atmosphere.

The warming is expected to increase algal blooms, and to mean global methane emissions will rise by 4% over the next decade. – Climate News Network

12 thoughts on “Warming fuels rise in methane threat”

    1. Alex Kirby

      Sorry Paul. I dread writing about methane, because whatever figures for 20/100 years I provide, I almost always get a comment from someone who says I’ve got it wrong. I do check the figures I use online before taking one of the various options suggested. From memory, 25 was the lowest figure I found, and so I should have written “at least 25” to have made the comparison better. I do think that the comparison over a century matters a lot less than that for 20 years, if only because not many of us are likely still to be standing in a century from now, but that doesn’t excuse my omission. If you can point me to a reliable source for 20/100 year comparative figures I’ll be extremely grateful

  1. Lewis Cleverdon

    Alex – good article. Schaeffer’s 2014 paper – which was very blunt in its warmings of the Permafrost Melt Feedback outputs using up much of the carbon budget tacitly adopted in Paris – looks highly understated in view of recent papers.
    Typo on methane GWP by the way – IPCC AR5 puts it at 34 x CO2 over 100 years.
    All the best,

    1. Silvia

      M. Blake is right. Reducing the burning of fosisl fuels is major and critical contributor. China is becoming the new major source. Although it might be politically incorrect, i’m an advocate of expanded nuclear power. After a few hard and painful lessons, I think we finally matured enough to construct safe and efficient plants and can use electric power as a general power source as is Scandinavia. (super hardened against terrorists, of course).

  2. Robert Callaghan

    Eating meat is the #1 cause of up to 50% of all GHG emissions when you add production & consumption.

    Eating meat is the #1 cause of water demand exceeding supply by 40% in 15 years.

    Eating meat is the #1 cause for a 90% decline of soil within the next 60 years.

    Eating meat is the #1 cause for 80% of all vertebrate species extinctions.

    Eating meat is the #1 cause of rainforest deforestation.

    The “Cowspiracy” video, now on Netflix in Canada, says not eating meat will reduce emissions faster than anything else.

    Vaclav Smil says world energy efficiency regulations can reduce emissions 40% in 10 – 20 years, but we refuse to do it.

    Michael Mann says we are on track to “lock-in” a 2°C temperature rise in just 3 years which would then arrive no later than 2036.

    In the last 20 years of trying we have increased renewable energy from just 1% of total worldwide energy use up to a mere 3% of total worldwide energy use.

    Eating meat will cause us to run out of water, food and soil before we complete a worldwide 100% renewable energy transition because such a massive transition will take generations, is poorly understood and is extremely complex.

    1. Alex Kirby

      Thank you for this Robert. Assuming you’re right in the points you make, how will you persuade people to stop eating meat? I didn’t get into discussion about meat-eating because, from what I remember, the study I was reporting didn’t do so either. And whatever we may think about any issue, we are reporters, not campaigners.

  3. Anthony Maturin

    All the more reason for phasing out farming ruminant animals. Not a popular idea, but one we have to push in any way we can.

    1. Nina

      Isn’t global waminrg basically a change in the greenhouse effect? If not, what’s the relationship between the two phenomena? There is almost no relationship. Global waminrg is a fantasy theory where Believers say that the earth’s temperature is rising due to changes in the concentration of CO2. The feeble evidence they cling to is a weak correlation between co2 and temperature. The trouble is that global temperature measurements are from satellites and only extend back to about 1975, and global co2 measurements are non existent since they are only recorded at one location in Hawaii and only extend back to the 1950’s. Beyond those dates and locations measurements are sporadic and unreliable, certainly not global and not of long enough duration. The Believers of this theory are now a shrinking minority who still claim co2 is the devil. Climate change is a reality however, and most of the world has seen lots of evidence of this in the form of images of polar bears and melting glaciers. But people realize that these images are evidence that the earths climate changes only, these images are not evidence that co2 is the cause. Only the Believers still fall for this ploy. Lol!Hope this answers your question.Cheer up folks, the climate scare has passed.

    1. Niketan

      yup. In Boston, they’re suggesting we can adapt by movnig out of flood zones, too (they’re still putting up more highrises there at the moment. Developers, you see, are only interested in making a buck, and lenders only look at a decade or two.

  4. Ardian

    The Earth is heated and cooeld by the sun in multiple ways.One way is the direct heating of the surface from the rays that hit it. Another way is from certain wavelengths of the light that are reflected back and get absorbed by greenhouse gases and warm the atmosphere (mostly water vapor, methane and tiny amounts of CO2). This is the process called the greenhouse effect. The third way is through the effects of cosmic rays on cloud formations.The amount of energy we get from the sun changes in cycles. such as sunspot activity and the position of the Earth’s orbit versus the sun in a couple hundred year cycle. The energy we get each year from the sun is constantly changing and guess what- the temperature of the Earth is affected by it.This is the problem with the alarmists. They want to blame every aspect of climate and weather on the greenhouse effect when there are many other things going on that they don’t take into account. Most scientists now believe the alarmists are giving FAR too much weight to the greenhouse effect and too little or NO weight to any other of many known factors in their computer models. So their computer model predictions really are just complicated science fiction.

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