Everything you need to know about methane but were afraid to ask

“Listen, the North Pole is starting to tilt towards the sun, so of course it melts, and that’s also why the Antarctic is growing so fast now”

This is the kind of rubbish I find on my replies when I tweet about Climate Change. Good thing I have my blog where I can spend more than 140 characters to explain my concerns. Today some reflection on methane related issues, because Carbon Dioxide may be In the news all over, there may be a much larger issue lurking out there.

Methane is a 25 times more potent Greenhouse Gas than CO2. Methane is released into the atmosphere from several sources, most of which are largely influenced by human behavior:
– oil and Gas industry (Natural gas = methane)
– farming (cow farts = methane )
– landfills create large amounts of methane
– decay of natural material (thawing permafrost is going to be a huge source of methane in the decades to come)
– fracking

That last category is very important, because the Fracking Gods make us believe that natural gas is much more environmentaly friendly than coal. This may be true if you replace the coal in the coal plant with a gas flame, but the problem is getting the gas there. During Fracking a significant amount of gas is leaked (1-3%). This leakage negates the positive effects of burning gas, and now appears 100-1000 larger than previously thought

Methane is a gas with a short lifespan in the atmosphere as opposed to carbon dioxide that stays in the atmosphere for a very long time. Methane is absorbed my moist soil at the bottom part of the atmosphere (by biological processes) and by a mechanism that I just learned of today : the hydroxy layer at 10-15 kilometers altitude. At that elevation solar radiation breaks apart water into very reactive particles called hydroxy ions (OH). These will bind to almost anything that comes along, and especially methane gets neutralized in this way. This hydroxy-zone is a thin shield covering the globe working like a vacuum cleaner for aggressive chemicals.

Enter problem number two
In the western Pacific scientists (oh, not them again!!) found a huge hole in the hydroxy-zone where methane can pop through into the stratosphere where it can perform its super blanket properties almost indefinitely. Given that that part of the Pacific is going to be in a turbulent state the following two years due to the awakening El Niño, we may see that hole even grow larger.

So not only do we need to cap CO2 emissions, we now also need to take a very good look at our methane emissions. For a good deal the two are directly related (via fossil fuel burning) so getting rid of one also means getting rid of the other, but given the vested interests of fossil fuel companies and governments tied to these companies with both hands (UK, Norway, Mexico, Netherlands) we have to be very afraid of rising methane emissions. Banning shale fracking would be a very good starting point.

Read the whole story here

By Lars Boelen


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