Controlling methane emissions is an effective way to slow global warming, two studies have concluded.
Along with CO2, methane is a greenhouse gas whose presence in the atmosphere is exacerbated by human activities such as farming and the burning of fossil fuels.
The rise in methane levels comes despite global efforts to tackle climate change through the likes of the Paris Agreement, to which 184 nations are now party.
In one study, a team led by Mark Zondlo, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering looked at an area around Western Pennsylvania with rich natural gas wells and found that a small number of these wells were ‘super emitters’ of methane.
The authors reported that 10% of the wells account for more than three-quarters of gas leaked into the atmosphere as a byproduct of extraction. This is the equivalent greenhouse gas effect of adding 500,000 cars to the road.
The second study came from a research group led by Denise Mauzerall, a professor of civil and environmental engineering also at Princeton University.
Using a laser-based instrument mounted on small fishing boats, the researchers estimated the methane emissions from eight North Sea production platforms off the coasts of England and Scotland.
They found that all the sampled offshore installations leaked even when they were not conducting operations which were expected to cause methane emissions.
In an interview with Princeton University, Mr. Zondlo said: ‘The fastest way to reduce the effects of greenhouse gases significantly is by decreasing methane emissions. If we improve our practices right now and lower methane emissions, it will pay off quickly because the half-life of methane in the atmosphere is about a decade, and it wouldn’t take long for the current build-up to clear.’
‘Methane today accounts for about one-quarter of the greenhouse gas warming, so reducing its emissions can have a significant and fairly quick impact on climate change.’
The latest data released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) found that the global average of atmospheric methane rose by 11 parts per billion (ppb) to 1867ppb last year from 1856.6ppb at the end of 2017.
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