Methane Impact on Global Climate Change 25% Greater Than Previously Estimated

Written by Christine Lepisto

Alarm bells continue to sound about the “other greenhouse gas”, methane. Everyone talks about “carbon” – a very unscientific reference to carbon dioxide, which remains the main factor driving global climate change. Methane is also “carbon” in the sense that it is the reduced form of the single carbon atom – CH4 – as opposed to the oxidized form CO2 (carbon dioxide).

A new study suggests that when people talk about “carbon” and climate change, we might be well served to think of both carbon dioxide and methane together.

Methane emissions occur from belching cows, exploitation of oil and gas, agriculture and other sources.

A new study from the University of Reading looks at how methane’s absorption of the warm rays from the sun differs from how carbon dioxide acts to warm our atmosphere. Methane absorbs shorter wavelengths, lower in the atmosphere, leading to direct warming of the area closer to the ground. This warmth is further held in, or reflected back towards earth, by clouds.

The overall effect on radiative forcing – which describes the balance of energy from the sun hitting the earth and that reflected back into outer space – shows that methane contributes 25% more towards global warming than the most recent estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest. Methane accounts for 30% contribution of all atmospheric factors towards overall global warming.

Methane already causes complexity in climate change models, because it has a very different rate of breakdown in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The outcome of modelling changes significantly, depending on whether one focuses on short-term or long-term factors for the global warming potential of the methane molecule. This issue becomes extremely delicate when trying to assign political value to the emissions of methane versus carbon dioxide.

Any political structures put into place to regulate and incentivize reduction in emissions of global warming pollutants will have to be flexible to adapt itself to the continuing advances in understanding of the effects and importance of various emissions.

Read the whole open source study in: Geophysical Research Letters

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

Photo Credit: NASA's Earth Observatory/Flickr

109 comments

Julia Oleynik
Julia Oleynik5 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Marie W
Marie W8 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Tin Ling L
Tin Ling L9 months ago

Noted.

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Nang Hai C
Nang Hai C9 months ago

thanks again.

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Simon L
Simon L9 months ago

Thank you

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Tin Ling L
Tin Ling L9 months ago

thanks you

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Melania P
Melania P9 months ago

Good luck to humanity

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Grace Adams
Grace Adams10 months ago

We humans do need to get our act together and clean up after ourselves.

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Dan B
Dan Blossfeld10 months ago

Mark,
What does your psychopath masters or political opinion after to do with the Permuan extinction? Not sure where you have gotten your mixed up employment facts.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner10 months ago

Blossfeld "rapid cooling" is not what happened in the Permian era. Among many other measurements, they can measure inclusions of CO2 and methane in fossilized brachiopods and that has has always been accurate as a measure of the content of the atmosphere. Increased CO2 which is a greenhouse gas causes planetary warming. That is an established fact. Just because your logo is a mad blind scientist in a lab coat, doesn't mean you are smart or an "authority". Let's see something which is not your political opinion. Let's see the millions of dollars of equipment and decades of research you have personally come up with to debunk the physical fact of global warming for your fossil fuel psychopath masters. Those millions of dollars in equipment and decades of actual research you don't have that real scientists have done to show global warming is a FACT, and that tens of billions of tons of CO2 pumped into the upper atmosphere yearly is not doing anything and according to tools like you there is nothing to see here. We know you work in the greedy fossil fuel industry and everyone can see what you keep spouting against reality is a load of politically motivated manure.

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