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Emissions of Key Greenhouse Gas Stabilize 244

brian0918 writes "Multiple news sites are reporting that levels of the second most important greenhouse gas, methane, have stabilized". From Scientific American: "During the two decades of measurements, methane underwent double-digit growth as a constituent of our atmosphere, rising from 1,520 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) in 1978 to 1,767 ppbv in 1998. But the most recent measurements have revealed that methane levels are barely rising anymore — and it is unclear why." From NewScientist: "Although this is good news, it does not mean that methane levels will not rise again, and that carbon dioxide remains the 800-pound gorilla of climate change."
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Emissions of Key Greenhouse Gas Stabilize

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  • Water Vapor? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Erioll ( 229536 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @08:35PM (#16959726)
    What about Water Vapor (or vapour, depending on where you live)? I've heard that's a major contributor... though the talk you hear about it is... a heated discussion at the very least (flamefests usually).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PineHall ( 206441 )
      Yes, water vapor contributes the most to the Greenhouse Effect. I have always wondered how much we affect the climate through irrigated fields and a host of other means of adding water vapor to the atmosphere. The debate happens when you consider clouds and latent heating (water vapor becoming liquid). Then it becomes less clear on what the net effect of water in all its forms has on the climate. This is an active area of study and there is still a lot to learn.
    • Water vapor is tricky. We don't have as much direct control over it as we do CO2, and that's why we tend to focus on the latter.

      There are a lot of positive and negative feedbacks associated with it. For one thing, planting trees (a very "poplar" form of carbon sequestration) tends to increase water vapor, as the leaves transpire to keep themselves cool. Also, as oceans heat up (which might be kicked off by an increase in CO2), water vapor increases. This both traps more heat (positive feedback) and incr
      • It is true that a warmer atmosphere will hold slightly more water vapour. The reason why water vapour is "ignored" as a GHG is because it's cycle time in the atmosphere is in the order of 10 days where as CO2 is ~150yrs.

        Realclimate has an interesting discussion about the missing methane [realclimate.org].
    • That was my first thought when I read this (at Scientific American, no less...thanks for the fact checking!). Water is BY FAR the biggest greenhouse gas, followed by CO2 then methane. The global warming that we are all talking about is actually water's amplication of a small temperature increase caused by CO2.
  • Arctic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by edwardpickman ( 965122 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @08:44PM (#16959812)
    The real 800lb gorilla for methane is the Arctic. If the predictions are right then this is the calm before the storm. If the Arctic melts, which it is, it'll release vast amounts of methane. It's likely to dwarf all other greenhouse sources. Everyone seems to be ignoring the Arctic but all the CO2 sources combined can't compare so a melting Arctic should be our primary concern. If it's the canary then the canary isn't just dead but it has been reduced to a skeleton.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TFer_Atvar ( 857303 )
      Actually, approximately half of the floating arctic icecap melts every year, due to temperature fluctuations and ice currents. Approximately every seven years, the entire floating arctic icecap is renewed. Note that this doesn't include glacial ice in Greenland, Alaska, Scandinavia, etc.
      • Re:Arctic (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DigitalRaptor ( 815681 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @09:31PM (#16960244) Homepage
        Not real familiar with satellite imagery, are you?

        The ice that is there may come and go (freeze and thaw) with the seasons, but it is indisputable that there is a hell of a lot more going than there is coming back.

        Satellite imagery from the 70's to now is shocking and disappointing, even bordering on the scary (beyond scary, I think).

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by alexhard ( 778254 )
          Let me guess....you just pulled that out of your ass didn't you?

          Let me reference nasa.gov:

          "While recent studies have shown that on the whole Arctic sea ice has decreased since the late 1970s, satellite records of sea ice around Antarctica reveal an overall increase in the southern hemisphere ice over the same period."

          Get your stories straight or don't post..misinformation doesn't benefit anyone
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by alexhard ( 778254 )
            damn, forgot to link..
            http://www.gsfc.nasa.gov/topstory/20020820 southseaice.html
          • Re:Arctic (Score:5, Interesting)

            by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Thursday November 23, 2006 @12:06AM (#16961304) Journal
            "Get your stories straight or don't post..misinformation doesn't benefit anyone"

            Not sure what your point is here since the GP didn't mention Anatartica, Arctic ice comes from the Arctic (north), Antartic ice comes from Antartica (south). Since the mid 1950's the Arctic ice cap has lost ~60% of it's volume (although one "skeptic" belives the missing ice is hiding behind Canada somewhere).

            There has been very little change in the volume of the Antartic ice cap, however both the Antartic penninsula and Greenland have experinced a +3C rise in average tempratures compared to the +1C global average (accurately predicted by climate models I might add).
            • by geobeck ( 924637 )

              ...although one "skeptic" believes the missing ice is hiding behind Canada somewhere.

              (Turns around) Nope, don't see it.

              Behind us? What does this skeptic think we're doing? Hiding it in the freezer so we can lob snowballs across the 49th parallel next summer?

              ...or maybe our Northwest Passage defense force has hidden it in his pickup truck?

              No, no, I know what it is. With all of our urban expansion, we've used up so much snow to build our igloos, mother nature just can't keep up!

        • by zCyl ( 14362 )
          Satellite imagery from the 70's to now is shocking and disappointing, even bordering on the scary (beyond scary, I think).

          Uh, link please?
    • If the predictions are right then this is the calm before the storm. If the Arctic melts, which it is, it'll release vast amounts of methane.

      Uh, perhaps this is a naive question, but the frozen Arctic is, well, ice. Where is the carbon going to come from to make CH4? Now, there are probably some levels of CO2 trapped in ice bubbles, but speaking naively I don't see how this is a hugely significant contribution to global atmospheric carbon levels?

      Not that a thawed Arctic wouldn't suck for other reaso

      • Re:Arctic (Score:5, Informative)

        by DigitalRaptor ( 815681 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @09:36PM (#16960280) Homepage
        I don't know enough about which ice is over the ocean and which is over land, but much of it is over land.

        Much of that land is comprised of old peat bogs and other partially decomposed plant life.

        As it is exposed and thaws it releases huge amounts of methane. This has already been observed and written about at length [google.com].

        IIRC it's one of the greatest potential contributors to the "tipping point [google.com]".

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by ukemike ( 956477 )
        The grandparent poster was not talking about the floating ice on the Arctic Ocean. He was talking about the permafrost in places like Alaska, Canada, and Siberia.

        It is suprising that methane has stabilized. There was a paper published this summer stating that melting permafrost was releasing methane at a much higher rate than expected. This would mean that some other source of methane would have to be slowing. If this is true it is good news indeed. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than
        • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )
          Or perhaps some source of negative feedback has kicked in. It really isn't THAT surprising that there is some negative feedback that acts to hold things fairly steady through all the time and changes the Earth has been through.
      • by Eivind ( 15695 )
        He is probably refereing to Methane Clathrate, ice-like methane that exists in enormous amounts on the seabed around the world. If a substantial part of this where to be released into the atmosphere it would indeed be a disaster. However we don't have any specific reason to believe global warming would acomplish that, this ice is on the *bottom* of the ocean, where temperatures are low and stable (1-3 degree centigrade), it's unlikely a few degrees of warming would change this much.

        But he's confused. Meth

    • good point, shame about the clichés.
  • by Kazymyr ( 190114 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @08:47PM (#16959848) Journal
    The single largest source of methane as a greenhouse gas is (flatulence from)cattle raised in the third world for food. The next sources in order are cattle raised in the western world, and human flatulence IIRC.

    Does the stabilization of methane levels mean they're now feeding beano to cattle?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by RubberBaron ( 990477 )
      I do hope you were joking.

      Just in case bozos out there actually believe it: The IPCC estimates that 60% of methane produced comes from our agriculture, industry, and waste. Humans are the biggest single source of methane. In North America and Europe, the largest single source of methane comes from landfills. The largest source of natural methane comes from wetlands.
      • by udderly ( 890305 ) *
        In North America and Europe, the largest single source of methane comes from landfills.

        I have a relative who is an engineer for a company that produces bricks. A current strategy that this company uses is to build brick factories, which consume enormous amounts of power in their kilns, next to large landfills. This burns methane, reducing the amount in the atmosphere, and reduces the amount of fossil fuels burned at power generating facilities. http://www.pwmag.com/industry-news.asp?sectionID= 7 60 [pwmag.com]
    • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

      Does the stabilization of methane levels mean they're now feeding beano to cattle?

      This would be funnier if it weren't partially true. Australian farmers have been experimenting with a "vaccine" that stimulates the immune systems of cows to kill some of the natural microbes in their digestive tracts -- the ones responsible for releasing much of the methane. Given that they're messing with cows' biology in this way, I sure hope it doesn't turn out that cow-methane isn't the problem we think it is.

    • Burping, but ruminant animals (cows, sheep etc), produces far more methane than these animals farting. Apparently the greenhouse gas output of 1 sheep is equivalent to driving 1200km.

      Lots of methane comes from anaerobic activity (rotting vegetation/sawdust, landfills, waste water processing etc). Even atural swamps and forest floor decomposition produce a lot of methane and CO2.

      Methane is far worse than CO2, thus it is preferable to burn off methane than let is escape into the atmosphere. Better still to bu

  • Obligatory (Score:2, Informative)

    by inviolet ( 797804 )

    I'll bet global methane emissions can be shown to track the gross sales of Taco Bell.

    Hmmmm... their stock has climbed steadily since August [nasdaq.com]. Perhaps the methane readings are due to their recent switch to Canola oil [marketwatch.com].

  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) * on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @08:54PM (#16959924) Homepage
    The thing is that it takes lots of years for the effect of gas ratio changes at sea level to propagate up into the upper atmosphere.

    From the vague article, these appear to be sea-level measurements - so the density of methane in the upper atmosphere (where it actually matters) will continue to grow for maybe 10 years before it starts to level off.

    We are seeing the effects of methane growth rates in the 1980's and 1990's...it'll get worse before it gets better.
  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @09:07PM (#16960056)
    Ok, let me get this straight.

    The methane gas was coming from an 800-pound gorilla?

    • Ok, let me get this straight.

      The methane gas was coming from an 800-pound gorilla?

      Gentlemen, I have our solution.

      We wait till wintertime rolls around... the 800lb gorillas simply freeze to death!

  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @09:20PM (#16960156) Homepage Journal
    People are drinking less cheap American beer and turning to wine and high quality ales. There is much less farting than there was 25 years ago.
    • The chief cause of beer flatulence is yeast cells. The second biggest cause is complex sugar. It is something that your bowel can adjust to over time, so people who regularly drink beer with yeast in it aren't so affected by it. Ironically, the American swill beer you mention is filtered and pasteurized, so it contains no yeast at all. And anybody who's tasted a Coors Light can also tell you that the complex sugar content is practically nonexistent. So, American megaswill should be among the LEAST likely be

  • by Toby The Economist ( 811138 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @09:23PM (#16960188)
    So here we are, currently doing basically bugger all about global warming, but with plenty of computer simulations and estimates about how much warming will happen in how many years, and plenty of politics going on about who should pay for it, and what about second world countries, and AFAICS it's basically a game of how long can be put off doing something about this, because it's going to cost plenty of money and we don't seem to need to be doing it just right now...

    Now, out of the blue, something *utterly* unexpected, inexplicable and major happens - the rate of methane emission levels out; and no one has a *CLUE* why.

    Well, I can hear this ticking noise...

    I sure hope we figure out interplanetry colonization soon.

    You know - just in case.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by timmarhy ( 659436 )
      my god you people are so ignorant. global warming fanatics WHINE so loudly about the little we do, do you have any ideaa the environmental reulations put in place over the last 20 years? you can't scratch your arsehole without the EPA having a say. And you seem so sure yet all you can do is carrying on like stick waving sharmans of doom when something happens you can't explain. the obvious answer, is our increased technology has leveled out the emissions.
    • second-world countries no longer exist, and haven't since christmas 1991.
  • CO2 (Score:2, Informative)

    by bwy ( 726112 )
    and that carbon dioxide remains the 800-pound gorilla of climate change.

    Actually, carbon dioxide is a small player. Water is responsible for at least 90% of the Earth's greenhouse effect. It is amazing to me how everyone is so eager to jump on a single bandwagon when it comes to global warming. Anyone who offers contradictory information is immediately dubbed as an "oil company lover" or a "right-wing anti-environmentalist." The first unfortunate truth is that science on both sides is being funded by
    • by jcr ( 53032 )
      industrialists would love for global warming NOT to exist
      That depends on which industrialists you're talking about. Many businessmen see enormous opportunities in developing and selling techologies to address the matter.

    • Re:CO2 (Score:4, Informative)

      by toolazytothink ( 1030956 ) on Wednesday November 22, 2006 @10:19PM (#16960612)
      But in fact, human behaviour does not seem to be changing water vapour concentrations in the atmosphere, while as many many scientists have observed, rising concentrations of CO2 (which seem to be linked to rising levels of development, and energy production and use) are proportional to temperature increases. Water is a much more complicated greenhouse gas because it goes into the atmosphere easily, but it also comes out easily. CO2, on the other hand does not leave the atmosphere easily, and it is having a measurable effect on our climate.
      • CO2 actually does leave the atmosphere easily. Plants literally grow out of the air. This is where their Carbon comes from. The expected life of CO2 in the atmosphre is anywhere from 15 to about 50 years and its probably closer to the 15 than the 50.

        Furthermore plants grow faster with the increase of CO2. This is proven and clearly obvious... obvious to any layman who can think and totally obvious to any intelligent biologist since they have been doing greenhouse studies on this for decades.

        Since plant
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ppanon ( 16583 )
          Note: Mankind's activities have clearly increased the amount of H2O in the atmosphere since we divert entire rivers via irrigation.

          Last I heard, the oceans covered 2/3rd of the surface of the Earth. It should be pretty clear that, in contrast, evaporation through irrigation on arable land (a fraction of the remaining 1/3) will be a drop in the bucket.

          The same can't be said for the production of CO2 from combustion of fossil fuels versus organic processes. And I have never seen spontaneous precipitation of l
        • Wow, that post is full of misinformation, it's difficult to know where to begin.

          Yes, *some* types of plants grow better in higher concentrations of CO2. Not all, some. That's important because there are a lot of different kinds of plants on this planet and they don't all react in the same way to their environments. (In fact, I seem to recall that some types of plants grow worse in higher CO2 environments. It'd be a pity if those includes grasses, wouldn't it?)

          So you're "obvious" fact is, as obvious fact
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      The reason we don't talk much about water vapor is because humanity really doesn't have much control over the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. However, we are definitely the primary source for the steady increase in CO2 over the last few decades.

      Another thing to remember is that we're talking about climate *change*. The fact that water vapor provides most of the Earth's warm comfy blanket is less important than the fact that we're adding another layer, because the addition is what is driving the c
  • I decided to just build hot taco salads at Jose's Mexican Buffet, avoiding refried beans completely. I'm happy to do my p(h)art to save the world.
  • From NewScientist: "Although this is good news, it does not mean that methane levels will not rise again, and that carbon dioxide remains the 800-pound gorilla of climate change."

    Um, yeah.

    The 800 pound gorilla of climate change is really water vapor, but let's not talk about that...
    • Of climate change, or of the greenhouse effect?

      There's a difference here, and it lies in what's causing the estimating climate changes.

      Is that more due to rising H20 levels or rising CO2 levels?
  • Believe it or not, this is huge. The CO2 as the 800 pound gorilla is not quite right. Methane is MANY times more stronger a green house gas than CO2. In fact, the United States pays BIG money to the former Soviet Union to get them to contain methane leaks because any gain on methane emissions is huge.
  • So "... it does not mean that methane levels will not rise again ...". That is correct. But only used to prevent the appearance of not toeing the party line of how all greenhouse gases are on the rise. Will we ever see equally correct statements in print today such as:

    And the rise of CO2 levels "does not mean that they will not descend again".

    And the rise in temperatures "does not mean that they will not lower again".

    No. We'll only repeatedly see:

    And the fact that our models were wrong many times "does
    • I lost all faith in (pseudo)-scientific (pseudo)-"studies" and the so-called media that reports them when, a few years ago, some study was published that said pregnant women should not drink water. Riiiight... Just like Sweet-n-Low will give me cancer (if I drink the equivalent of 350 soft drinks a day). These "scientific" conclusions are ridiculous. I might as well come out and say, "water must kill because 100% of all people who drink it, die." Of course, an astute person would recognize the "post ho

  • I guess this is what happens when so many people light their own farts.
  • But the most recent measurements have revealed that methane levels are barely rising anymore -- and it is unclear why.

    Yes. Unclear. But one must assume it must only be a minor (and temporary) effect that will not detract from the alarming global changes that are forecast. Right? It could not possibly be revealing the fact that so much is not understood about the atmosphere that any current attempt at drawing firm conclusions about the present state (let alone future states) is pure guessing. And while
  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) * on Thursday November 23, 2006 @12:41AM (#16961492) Journal
    I think it may be related to the rise in natural gas prices, and the natural urge for gas producers to go plug up leaks at those prices.

    Natural gas production [pnl.gov] is the leading source of Russian methane emissions, for instance. And in 1990, Russia leaked as much as 26 million tons of methane. It was probably worth their while to plug some of these leaks at current prices.
  • Multiple news sites are reporting that levels of the second most important greenhouse gas, methane, have stabilized


It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's