Science has often been regarded as an infinite enigma; there is always some mystery left to solve, and some knots left to untangle. But those mysteries are much more enjoyable when the very future of the planet isn’t at stake. Take the Methane concentration in the atmosphere for example. Since 2007, its levels have been rising steadily and scientists don’t know how to tackle this. This leaves us with a glaring problem: A faster, and sooner-to-arrive than anticipated end of planet Earth. And the mystery: Scientists still don’t know¬†WHY?
Why is this a cause for concern?
According to scientists, the Paris climate accord is now in danger, since many of its goals had assumed that methane concentrations would be decreasing by now. This would have given us time to tackle carbon dioxide emissions and therefore, reduce global warming.
I don’t want to run around and cry wolf all the time, but it is something that is very, very worrying.
Euan Nisbet, Earth Scientist at Royal Holloway, University of London.
How is Methane Produced?
The sources of methane in the world are lesser in quantity than that of carbon dioxide. However, Methane packs a bigger punch in terms of climate change, as one ton of it can cause 32 times as much global warming as that of a ton of CO2 over a century.
Naturally, methane is produced when stuff breaks down in bogs, wastelands etc. Also, forest fires produce a small quantity of methane, as do animals whose guts cause methane creation. While animals themselves aren’t at fault, but increased cattle raising as well as leaks from fossil fuel operations are the chief sources of methane in today’s time.
A variable picture
For almost 10,000 years, methane concentration was limited to 750 parts per billion in the atmosphere and began rising only in the 19th century until the mid 1990s. The most worrying part is that it caused one third of the global warming that has occurred since the onset of the industrial revolution. The concentration capped at somewhere around 1,775 ppb and everyone thought that it had stopped. But since 2014, it has been rising up and has reached beyond 1,850 ppb, with no apparent explanation why.
Another problem with these rising concentrations is the onset of a vicious cycle with climate change. The increasing temperatures would cause wetlands to expand and support more livestock, thereby causing more increase in methane emissions.
The Warming is Feeding the Warming.
Were these emissions and the corresponding concentration to keep on increasing, tackling climate change could become even bigger a problem than it already is. Even without methane in the picture, keeping global temperatures in check is a very tall order, and this phenomenon is not helping.
The unexpected and sustained current rise in methane may so greatly overwhelm all progress from other reduction efforts that the Paris Agreement will fail.
Nisbet and Co-authors in their paper.
What’s more, not only have the global warming potential of this gas been increased by as much as 14 per cent, humans themselves are responsible for 60 per cent of its emissions.
It’s not all a bleak picture though….
While it can appear to be so, there are ways to control these factors. Animals’ diet, when regulated, can decrease such emission. Similarly, gas leaks from oil and gas wells need to be plugged on priority as they account for a major portion of the emission spectrum. The Aliso Canyon leak in southern California released roughly 100,000 tons of methane in 2015 and 2016, which is the equivalent of burning almost a billions gallons of gasoline. Imagine what that would have done to the environment.
Small measures can go a long way in reducing climate change and global warming impact, and it is our duty to strive towards the same.