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Scientists are baffled by a giant spike in this greenhouse gas — and it’s not CO2

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The unexpected culprit that could throw a wrench in the world’s efforts to stop climate change? Runaway methane levels. Researchers monitoring air samples have noticed an alarming observation: Methane levels are on the rise and no one’s quite sure why.

NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory scientists have been analyzing air samples since 1983. Once a week, metal flasks containing air from around the world at different elevations find their way to the Boulder, Colorado, lab. The scientists look at 55 greenhouse gases, including methane and its more-famous climate villain, CO2.

You might know methane as the stuff of cow farts, natural gas, and landfills. It’s also an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, absorbing heat 25 times more effectively than CO2. While the rise of carbon dioxide has been stealing the spotlight as of late, methane levels have also been on the incline.

Methane levels, not surprisingly, have been steadily rising since the Industrial Revolution. Things picked up in 1980 and soon after, the NOAA scientists began consistently measuring methane. Levels were high but flattened out by the turn of the millenium. So when levels began to increase at a rapid rate in 2007, and then even faster in 2014, scientists were baffled. No one’s best guesses came close to predicting current methane levels of around 1,867 parts per billion as of 2018. This means studies evaluating the effects of climate change and action plans to address them, like the Paris Climate Agreement, may be based on downplayed climate crisis forecasts.

Methane levels from 1950 to present. 2° Institute

 

So what’s the big deal? Carbon dioxide emissions are relatively well understood and can be tracked to various human activities like transportation and electricity, which means policies can be enacted to target and lower emissions. Pinning down the source of methane, on the other hand, is a little more complicated.

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“The really fascinating thing about methane,” Lori Bruhwiler, a NOAA research scientist, told Undark, “is the fact that almost everything we humans do has an effect on the methane budget, from producing food to producing fuel to disposing of waste.”

As if things weren’t complicated enough, a study published in AGU100 distinguished microbe-produced methane from fossil fuel methane — historically the more abundant one — and found that “natural” methane had taken the lead. This unexpected result might explain the upticks in methane levels that do not seem correlated with human activity. Of course, it could also be any number of human-made causes, including warming temperatures freeing up the gas and more frequent floods amplifying the methane output of wetlands.

Natural methane or not, this finding doesn’t exonerate anyone. The study’s authorsmade that clear in their concluding remarks.

“If the increased methane burden is driven by increased emissions from natural sources,” they wrote, “and if this is a climate feedback—the warming feeding the warming—then there is urgency to reduce anthropogenic emissions, which we can control.”

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Curbing methane could be a powerful tool in our upcoming climate fight. Since the greenhouse gas is relatively short lived, only around 12 years, versus the 20 to 200 years of CO2, and is more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, addressing methane emissions could be effective as a short-term climate remediation tool. The first step? Bringing more attention to methane so we can figure out where it comes from and nip it in the bud.

By Leta Dickinson, Grist

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Texas Republican denies trying to cleanse internet of references to the time she allegedly kidnapped a puppy

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The legal counsel for the Bexar County Republican Party in Texas is denying attempting to force Google to hide articles from her past.

"Google has received six requests to remove links to newspaper columns about Lynette Boggs-Perez, a recently elected Judson ISD trustee whose political career in Nevada was dogged by scandal before she moved to Texas," the San Antonio Express News reported, via Reason.

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Trump’s fans think he’s a macho he-man — he’s really a moral weakling who preys on women and kids

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Donald Trump's fans are obsessed with the idea that their hero is the pinnacle of manliness, here to restore the supposed greatness of American masculinity after its alleged assault at the hands of feminism and "political correctness." His fans paint semi-erotic art portraying Trump as handsome and virile, either with a couple of dozen pounds shaved off his waistline or as an over-muscular he-man. They are so sure that Trump radiates a vibrant masculinity that Trump fanboy and convicted criminal Dinesh D'Souza recently posted a picture of Trump sitting next to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with the caption, "Masculinity in the twenty first century: which one is YOU?" The implicit assumption was that the orange-tinted primate, hunched over in a poorly-fitted suit was obviously more of a studly macho man than the suave young Canadian.

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Questions swirl over Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s relationship with billionaire landlord

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A new report draws attention to a controversial mine in Minnesota, raising questions as to whether a potential conflict of interest could have paved the way for its construction.

A conglomerate owned by Chilean billionaire Andrónico Luksic purchased a $5.5 million house in Washington shortly before President Donald Trump assumed office, according to the New York Times. The home was then rented to Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, respectively the new president's son-in-law and daughter, raising questions about whether a potential conflict of interest arose for the new administration in regards to policy pertaining to Antofagasta, the conglomerate controlled by Luksic.

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