The lead author said that one positive implication of the research is “if we can reduce our emissions, it’s going to have more of an impact.”
A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature found that extraction and use of fossil fuels may emit up to 40% more climate-heating methane than previously thought—underscoring humanity’s ability to significantly limit global temperature rise by rapidly transitioning to renewable energy.
While methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere nearly as long as carbon dioxide, it is 84–87 times more potent over a 20-year period. The latest update from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in November 2019 showed that globally averaged concentrations of the top two greenhouse gases increased in 2018.
“If we stopped emitting all carbon dioxide today, high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would still persist for a long time,” explained University of Rochester researcher Benjamin Hmiel, lead author of the new paper (pdf). “Methane is important to study because if we make changes to our current methane emissions, it’s going to reflect more quickly.”
A new study has found that natural sources can’t explain the surge of methane in the atmosphere in recent decades.
“This strengthens suspicions that fossil fuel companies are not fully accounting for their impact on the climate”https://t.co/0MeB5YJWDM
— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) February 19, 2020
Hmiel’s team focused on emissions of fossil methane, “which has been sequestered for millions of years in ancient hydrocarbon deposits.” As Carbon Brief reported:
These are most commonly associated with the extraction and transport of fossil fuels—such as leaks from coal mining and flaring from oil and gas drilling—but they have “natural” sources as well.
There are four main ways that fossil methane escapes into the atmosphere naturally. These include onshore seeps (including oil and gas seeps, mud volcanoes, and gas-bearing springs), submarine (offshore) seeps, “diffuse microseepage” from oil and gas-bearing sedimentary rocks, and geothermal and volcanic formations.
The new study suggests that the amount of methane being emitted in these natural ways has been overestimated.
Specifically, the researchers concluded from examining air bubbles in ice cores from Greenland that “natural” fossil methane emissions are about 10 times lower and emissions from human activity—namely, fossil fuel use and extraction—are 25–40% higher than previous research has shown.
In preindustrial times, natural geological sources of methane from fossil fuels were vastly lower than previously thought, according to a Nature paper. It implies that modern human-generated emissions of methane are much larger than previously suggested. https://t.co/pyXtwbHGwv pic.twitter.com/hDPZydao9j
— Nature (@nature) February 19, 2020
Their findings, Hmiel told Carbon Brief, suggest that “almost all fossil methane in the atmosphere today is from anthropogenic emissions originating from the extraction and use of fossil fuels.” However, he added, that also “puts more of the emissions under our domain and agency.”
As the lead author put it in the university’s statement: “I don’t want to get too hopeless on this because my data does have a positive implication: most of the methane emissions are anthropogenic, so we have more control. If we can reduce our emissions, it’s going to have more of an impact.”
As studies pile up showing emissions connected to fossil fuels are almost always worse than original estimates, the Trump admin keeps pushing plans to help their friends in oil and gas industries. Picking polluters over people—that’s kind of their thing.https://t.co/9gVpkq1VjF
— LCV – League of Conservation Voters (@LCVoters) February 19, 2020
Although he was not involved in the new research, Joeri Rogelj concurred with Hmiel in a statement. Rogelj, a lecturer at the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, was coordinating lead author of a major climate report the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published in October 2018.
“This new study brings both good and bad news for our ability to keep global warming in check,” Rogelj said Wednesday. “The bad news is that this study shows that human activities might well be responsible for a much larger share of the increasing methane concentrations in the atmosphere.”
The good news is that this study “shows us where we can act on climate change,” he continued. “Measures and policies to eliminate methane emissions from fossil fuels are well known, and in many cases even make sense from a narrow economic perspective. They range from eliminating leaking pipes, reducing or improving flaring, and evidently also a shift away from the extraction and use of fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources.”
“What this study shows is that we can have a bigger impact on methane in the atmosphere than earlier thought. This allows us to set climate policy priorities right,” Rogelj added. “Together with bringing down carbon dioxide emissions to zero, keeping methane emissions to as low as possible levels will result in stabilizing global warming. Trying to reverse our global warming contribution will require us to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”
The grim silver lining to this study: we have more control over total methane emissions today than we thought.
New estimate brings fossil fuel methane emissions up from 145±23 Tg CH4/yr to 177±37, near that of human methane emitted by agriculture (~200) (Kirschke et al. 2013) https://t.co/36O8NyOfKj
— Seaver Wang (@wang_seaver) February 19, 2020
Link to the new research paper by Hmeil et al., 2020:https://t.co/CItjKE2SXE
— Seaver Wang (@wang_seaver) February 19, 2020
Despite the optimistic response to the research from Rogelj and some other experts, a scientist who spoke with ScienceNews Wednesday indicated that more work needs to be done to understand methane emissions from human activity:
[S]uch ice core–based work is not yet proven to be the most accurate technique to estimate natural geologic emissions, says Stefan Schwietzke, an environmental scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund who is based in Berlin. The ice core information is useful because it gives an immediate global snapshot of methane emissions, but “it has the challenge of interpretation and a lot of very complex analysis,” Schwietzke says.
Direct measurements of methane emitted from different seeps or over mud volcanoes suggest much larger natural emissions, he adds. The problem with this method, however, is that it’s difficult to scale up from local measurements to a global number. “To really understand the magnitudes, these two methods need to be reconciled. That hasn’t happened yet.”
Schwietzke and other researchers have proposed using airborne remote sensing to try to reconcile the two techniques. Airborne measurements can give a bigger-picture estimate, while also identifying local hot spots. Scientists have already been using this work to identify sources such as leaking pipelines, landfills, or dairy farms. Similar projects are tracking methane emission hot spots in Arctic permafrost.
Ultimately, despite the debate over technique, Schwietzke agreed that human activity has dramatically increased atmospheric methane in recent decades and “reducing those emissions will reduce warming.”
French hospital halts trials of Trump-promoted COVID-19 drug due to worries about heart failure
President Donald Trump's promotion of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 has drawn criticism from medical experts who say much more work needs to be done before anyone can say it's effective at stopping the disease.
And now one hospital in France has stopped its testing of hydroxychloroquine on COVID-19 patients over worries that the drug poses a "toxic risk" to people's hearts when taken in combination with other drugs.
French newspaper Nice Matin reports that Nice University Hospital "immediately stopped" its use of hydroxychloroquine in patients who exhibit "major risks" of suffering heart failure due to the drug.
Economist who hoped for ‘V-shaped’ recovery now predicting a prolonged downturn even worse than the Great Recession
Tim Bartik is among the economists who has described the type of “V-shaped” economic recovery he would like to see in the United States following the coronavirus pandemic. Ideally, Bartik has asserted, all the businesses that have been shut down by the pandemic would reopen quickly when it’s safe to do so and put millions of Americans back to work. But journalist Andy Balaskovitz, in an article published in MiBiz on April 8, explains why Bartik (a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Michigan) now believes that predictions of a “V-shaped recovery” are wishful thinking — and why Americans are in for a lot of economic pain in the months ahead.
‘Recipe for disaster’: Officials in Florida city say they face ‘unimaginable’ potential death from COVID-19
Officials in the Florida city of Hialeah are warning that they are uniquely vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic and face the possibility of "unimaginable" death from the disease.
In interviews with The Daily Beast, the officials explained how their large population of senior citizens is at grave risk if Hialeah erupts as a major COVID-19 hotspot.
"I think it is going to get a lot worse," Hialeah Councilman Jesus Tundidor tells The Daily Beast. “The experts have been telling us to expect a peak [in Florida] near the end of the month. As we get more testing sites up and running, the more positive cases we will see. And that will create more fear."