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Methane emissions from fossil fuel activities have been greatly underestimated

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Posted October 8, 2016
Fossil fuel activities account for up to 25% of total methane emissions. Image credit: Boyd Norton, 1936, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia, Public Domain

Fossil fuel activities account for up to 25% of total methane emissions. Image credit: Boyd Norton, 1936, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia, Public Domain

We all know that humanity needs to focus on reducing pollution and improving environmental protection. However, before we achieve these goals, we must know what damage we are really making. A new study, conducted by scientists from CIRES and NOAA revealed that fossil fuel methane emissions are up to 60 % greater than previously believed.

In fact, numbers are shocking. Scientists calculated that fossil fuel activities are responsible for about 132-165 million tons of methane, which is around 20-25% of total methane emissions. Depending on the source, it may be 20-60% more than other researches have shown. However, scientists also note that increasing methane in the atmosphere is not necessarily fault of fossil fuel industry. Furthermore, companies have put efforts into reducing leaks – they have been reduced from 8 to 2 % of production, although that has been cancelled out by increasing production.

This knowledge is very important, because methane is the second greatest contributor to global warming. Although there is nowhere near as much methane in the atmosphere as there is CO2, methane is very good at isolating heat. Good news are that reducing methane emissions is not that hard of a task – even investments in reducing leaks and improving  gas infrastructure are not impossibly huge. The reason why previous studies have underestimated fossil fuel production methane emissions is an enormous amount of assumptions. Now scientist compiled an extensive database, which allowed them making much more accurate estimations.

Worryingly, methane emissions from all sources year in 2007-2013 increased by about 28 million tons per. However, it is not the fault of fossil fuel production alone. Isotope analysis showed that microbial sources may be responsible for the increase. Stefan Schwietzke, lead author of the study, said that livestock farms, wetlands and landfills may be leading the increase of methane. He said: “If it’s coming from decaying vegetation in wetlands or fresh waters, then a warming climate could be the culprit, which means that it could be part of a self-reinforcing feedback loop leading to more climate change”.

The study will continue and now scientists will attempt expanding database of microbial sources of methane. More information is needed to develop novel ways of reducing methane emissions and identifying the greatest sources of pollution.

Source: colorado.edu

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