Climate: Methane emissions from freshwater ecosystem set to soar as Earth warms

New study assesses freshwater methane on a global scale


Microorganisms in freshwater ecosystems generate significant amounts of methane.

Staff Report

FRISCO — After recalculating Earth’s greenhouse gas budget, Princeton scientists say that methane emissions will start increasing at a faster pace than carbon dioxide, primarily due to the release of methane from microscopic freshwater organisms.

Methane is about 30 times more effective than CO2 at trapping the sun’s heat, and for every degree of warming, methane emissions will increase several times over, according to the research published in Nature.

Continue reading

Study: Methane emission estimates much too low


America’s natural gas infrastructure has leakage issues.

Methane emissions from natural gas industry facilities and other sources may be up to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A comprehensive air quality analysis shows that most estimates of methane emissions from various sources — including the natural gas industry — are much too low, a result that didn’t surprise the scientists who led the study. Total U.S. methane emissions are probably about 25 to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates.

“People who go out and and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.” Continue reading

Global warming: Of cattle and climate …

Efforts to reduce greenhouse gases should focus on livestock

Taking a lunch break during a search for orchids in the Austrian countryside.

Too many cows? Scientists say cutting methane emissions from ruminant livestock could help in race to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. bberwyn photo.

Staff report

FRISCO — Focusing on livestock to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could help humanity make some headway in the race to prevent catastrophic climate change, according to an international research team that took a close look at methane and nitrous oxide.

Cutting releases of methane and nitrous oxide, two gases that pound-for-pound trap more heat than CO2, should be considered alongside the challenge of reducing fossil fuel use, the scientists concluded in their analysis, published last week as an opinion commentary in Nature Climate Change, a professional journal.

“Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” said Oregon State University forestry professor William Ripple. “We clearly need to reduce the burning of fossil fuels to cut CO2 emissions. But that addresses only part of the problem. We also need to reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gases to lessen the likelihood of us crossing this climatic threshold,” Ripple said. Continue reading

New study ups estimates of U.S. methane emissions


U.S. emissions of heat-trapping methane may be much higher than previously thought.

Previous data may have seriously underestimated methane from fossil fuel production

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Colorado regulators preparing to tackle heat-trapping methane have their work cut out — a new landmark study suggests that methane emissions from fossil fuel development in the south-central U.S. may be five times higher than previous estimates, and emissions from livestock operations may be twice as high.

Total methane emissions in the United States appear to be as much as 1.7 times higher than believed, a team of researchers said after analyzing detailed atmospheric measurements.

“This paper provides the most solid and the most detailed estimate to date of total U.S. methane emissions,” said coauthor Anna M. Michalak, a faculty member in the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science. Michalak is also an associate professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford University. “This was really, from beginning to end, just a very clean analysis.” Continue reading

Climate: Protecting the cryosphere

International groups seeks immediate cuts in black carbon, methane, HFCs to protect world’s snow and ice regions


Antarctic glaciers may last a little longer with immediate cuts to short-lived climate pollutants. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Along with the larger battle to reduce emissions of CO2 and other long-lived greenhouse gases, policy makers should also consider how they can cut short-lived climate pollutants in order to protect the world’s snow and ice.

A study released earlier this month shows that immediate cuts to short-lived pollutants could could prevent as much as a full degree Celsius of additional warming in the Arctic by 2050, preventing up to 40 percent of projected summer sea ice loss and 25 percent of springtime snow cover loss compared to business as usual emissions.

The report from the World Bank and the International Climate Cryosphere Initiative also spells out how immediate action could save millions of lives and protect critical ecosystems. Read the cryosphere action plan here.

“Reductions in emissions from diesel engines, open field and forest burning, and wood stoves will have a significant impact on the Arctic, while reducing emissions from the burning of biomass and coal for residential cooking and heating will have the largest impact on the Himalayas,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development.

“If you cut these using existing technology right now, you can cut the rate of climate-change in half. This is a no-brainer. It saves lives, crops, and it’s not going to shut down anybody’s life,” Zaelke said. “This is a piece we can get started on right now, a damn big piece, the only thing we can do to produce results in the next 50 years …  A lot of these changes can be done quickly, elegantly … with existing technology,” he said. Continue reading

Climate models underestimating Arctic permafrost methane emissions


Methane from melt ponds in the Canadian Arctic are a significant source of greenhouse gases. bberwyn photo.

Study targets small melt ponds in Canadian Arctic

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — When it comes to global warming, size can matter — in unexpected ways — according to scientists who studied methane emissions from thawing permafrost in the Canadian Arctic.

The findings suggest that most climate models are underestimating those emissions, and that including greenhouse gases coming from small thaw ponds could have a significant impact on climate. Continue reading

Global warming: New study suggests short-term focus on transient greenhouse gases could yield climate benefits


Carbon dioxide levels continue to  rise with no solution in sight, but cutting other greenhouse gases might be easier.

Technological solutions at hand; swift action could give coastal communities more time to prepare for sea level rise

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Even without tackling the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide, cutting methane, tropospheric ozone, hydrofluorocarbons, and black carbon could help limit sea level rise, seen as one of the most serious impacts of global warming.

Reducing pollutants that cycle through the atmosphere relatively quickly could temporarily forestall the rate of sea level rise by roughly 25 to 50 percent, according to new report from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Climate Central and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“To avoid potentially dangerous sea level rise, we could cut emissions of short-lived pollutants even if we cannot immediately cut carbon dioxide emissions,” said NCAR’s Aixue Hu, lead author author of the study. “This new research shows that society can significantly reduce the threat to coastal cities if it moves quickly on a handful of pollutants.” Continue reading

Global warming: Organic sediments under Antarctic ice sheets may become a huge source of heat-trapping methane

Sub-ice environments are biologically active and converting organic material to methane

Antarctica is a potentially vast source of heat-trapping methane. Photo by Bob Berwyn.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Climate researchers have long warned that stores of organic material in the Arctic will release vast amounts of heat-trapping methane as the atmosphere warms.

Now, a new study shows that Antarctica is another potentially huge source of methane. As much as 50 percent of the West Antarctic ice sheet may be covering old organic matter in sedimentary basins — and that organic matter may have been converted to methane by micro-organisms living under oxygen-deprived conditions.

The methane could be released to the atmosphere if the ice sheet shrinks and exposes these old sedimentary basins, the study concludes. Continue reading

Global warming: Reservoir drawdowns a factor in atmospheric methane levels

Reservoir drawdowns appear to have the potential to increase heat-trapping methane in the atmosphere.

Study measures increased methane emissions as reservoir levels drop

By Summit Voice

Lowering water levels in reservoirs may significantly increase emissions of heat-trapping methane gas, according to Washington State University researchers who measured dissolved gases in the water column of Lacamas Lake.

Graduate student Bridget Deemer found methane emissions jumped 20-fold when the water level was drawn down. A fellow WSU-Vancouver student, Maria Glavin, sampled bubbles rising from the lake mud and measured a 36-fold increase in methane during a drawdown.

Methane is 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. And while dams and the water behind them cover only a small portion of the earth’s surface, they harbor biological activity that can produce large amounts of greenhouse gases. There are also some 80,000 dams in the United States alone, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Inventory of Dams.

“Reservoirs have typically been looked at as a green energy source,” Deemer said. “But their role in greenhouse gas emissions has been overlooked.” Continue reading

Global warming: Diseased trees may be major methane source

Diseased trees may be a globally significantly source of heat-trapping methane gas.

Sampling yields highly elevated methane levels in diseases stands

By Summit Voice

Along with the potential risk for increased fire danger, there may be another good reason to remove beetle-infested trees from western forests.

Researchers at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies say some diseased trees release methane at a level that may be a globally significant source of the potent heat-trapping gas, according to the study published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Sixty trees sampled at Yale Myers Forest in northeastern Connecticut contained concentrations of methane that were as high as 80,000 times ambient levels. Normal air concentrations are less than 2 parts per million, but the Yale researchers found average levels of 15,000 parts per million inside trees. Continue reading


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