• How Does Methane Contribute to Climate Change?

Air Monitoring

How Does Methane Contribute to Climate Change?

Feb 25 2022

A naturally occurring gas, methane has a variety of different sources and uses in our world. However, a sharp increase in anthropogenic activity over the last two centuries has seen methane concentrations in our atmosphere surge at an alarming rate. In fact, modern methane monitoring methods have revealed that there is roughly two-and-a-half times the amount of methane in our environment today than there was before the Industrial Revolution.

This is especially concerning given methane’s status as a highly potent greenhouse gas. While carbon dioxide may hog the headlines when it comes environmental issues, methane’s role in contributing to global warming and climate change should not be underestimated. Here’s a closer look at where it comes from, why it’s harmful and what can be done about it.

Sources of methane

Methane emissions can be broadly divided into two categories: those which come from natural sources and those which emanate as a result of human activity. The former are chiefly emitted from wetlands, forest fires, termite infestations and oceanic tidal movements. The latter are comprised of emissions from the agricultural, energy and petrochemical industries, as well as the generation and disposal of human waste, among other sources.

How methane contributes to global warming

Methane is one of several gases which act as a sort of blanket between the Earth and the stratosphere. By trapping the energy from the sun’s rays, they retain heat and warm the atmosphere around them. This not only elevates global temperatures, but contributes to climate change events such as the melting of the polar icecaps and the rising of the sea levels, as well as more immediately noticeable symptoms such as more frequent and more intense extreme weather events.

Is methane worse than carbon dioxide?

Yes and no. On the one hand, methane persists in our atmosphere for a far shorter time period than CO2 (an estimated 12 years compared to carbon’s centuries-long lifespan). What’s more, it’s also nowhere near as abundant, with science projecting that there is approximately 200 times less methane in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. On the other hand, it’s much more effective at trapping heat, meaning it has a global warming potential (GWP) that is 80 times greater than CO2 over a 20-year period.

How can we curb methane emissions?

Given that the energy and petrochemicals industries are two of the leading sources of methane emissions, weaning ourselves off fossil fuels would be a huge step in curbing concentrations of the gas in the Earth’s atmosphere. This involves transitioning to cleaner, more renewable power sources, as well as reducing our consumption of plastic products. Agriculture is another chief methane producer, so switching to a more plant-based diet would also be helpful. Increasing recycling rates and improving waste disposal methods are other methods of targeting methane emissions.

To learn more about how methane is monitored at the point of emission, the Industrial Methane Measurement conference is scheduled to take place in the Netherlands on the 8th and 9th of June this year. Interested parties are encouraged to visit the above link to find out further details.


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