New 3D view of methane tracks sources

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA's new 3-dimensional portrait of methane shows the world's second largest contributor to greenhouse warming as it travels through the atmosphere. Combining multiple data sets from emissions inventories and simulations of wetlands into a high-resolution computer model, researchers now have an additional tool for understanding this complex gas and its role in Earth's carbon cycle, atmospheric composition, and climate system. The new data visualization builds a fuller picture of the diversity of methane sources on the ground as well as the behavior of the gas as it moves through the atmosphere.Credit: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio

NASA’s new 3-dimensional portrait of methane shows the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming as it travels through the atmosphere. Combining multiple data sets from emissions inventories and simulations of wetlands into a high-resolution computer model, researchers now have an additional tool for understanding this complex gas and its role in Earth’s carbon cycle, atmospheric composition, and climate system. The new data visualization builds a fuller picture of the diversity of methane sources on the ground as well as the behavior of the gas as it moves through the atmosphere.Credit: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio

NASA’s new 3-dimensional portrait of methane concentrations shows the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming, the diversity of sources on the ground, and the behavior of the gas as it moves through the atmosphere. Combining multiple data sets from emissions inventories, including fossil fuel, agricultural, biomass burning and biofuels, and simulations of wetland sources into a high-resolution computer model, researchers now have an additional tool for understanding this complex gas and its role in Earth’s carbon cycle, atmospheric composition, and climate system.

Since the Industrial Revolution, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled. After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most influential greenhouse gas, responsible for 20 to 30% of Earth’s rising temperatures to date.

“There’s an urgency in understanding where the sources are coming from so that we can be better prepared to mitigate methane emissions where there are opportunities to do so,” said research scientist Ben Poulter at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

A single molecule of methane is more efficient at trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide, but because the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere is shorter and carbon dioxide concentrations are much higher, carbon dioxide still remains the main contributor to climate change. Methane also has many more sources than carbon dioxide, these include the energy and agricultural sectors, as well as natural sources from various types of wetlands and water bodies.

“Methane is a gas that’s produced under anaerobic conditions, so that means when there’s no oxygen available, you’ll likely find methane being produced,” said Poulter. In addition to fossil fuel activities, primarily from the coal, oil and gas sectors, sources of methane also include the ocean, flooded soils in vegetated wetlands along rivers and lakes, agriculture, such as rice cultivation, and the stomachs of ruminant livestock, including cattle.

“It is estimated that up to 60% of the current methane flux from land to the atmosphere is the result of human activities,” said Abhishek Chatterjee, a carbon cycle scientist with Universities Space Research Association based at Goddard. “Similar to carbon dioxide, human activity over long time periods is increasing atmospheric methane concentrations faster than the removal from natural ‘sinks’ can offset it. As human populations continue to grow, changes in energy use, agriculture and rice cultivation, livestock raising will influence methane emissions. However, it’s difficult to predict future trends due to both lack of measurements and incomplete understanding of the carbon-climate feedbacks.”

Researchers are using computer models to try to build a more complete picture of methane, said research meteorologist Lesley Ott with the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office at Goddard. “We have pieces that tell us about the emissions, we have pieces that tell us something about the atmospheric concentrations, and the models are basically the missing piece tying all that together and helping us understand where the methane is coming from and where it’s going.”

To create a global picture of methane, Ott, Chatterjee, Poulter and their colleagues used methane data from emissions inventories reported by countries, NASA field campaigns, like the Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) and observations from the Japanese Space Agency’s Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT Ibuki) and the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite. They combined the data sets with a computer model that estimates methane emissions based on known processes for certain land-cover types, such as wetlands. The model also simulates the atmospheric chemistry that breaks down methane and removes it from the air. Then they used a weather model to see how methane traveled and behaved over time while in the atmosphere.

The data visualization of their results shows methane’s ethereal movements and illuminates its complexities both in space over various landscapes and with the seasons. Once methane emissions are lofted up into the atmosphere, high-altitude winds can transport it far beyond their sources.

When they first saw the data visualized, several locations stood out.

In South America, the Amazon River basin and its adjacent wetlands flood seasonally, creating an oxygen-deprived environment that is a significant source of methane. Globally, about 60% of methane emissions come from the tropics, so it’s important to understand the various human and natural sources, said Poulter.

Over Europe, the methane signal is not as strong as over the Amazon. European methane sources are influenced by the human population and the exploration and transport of oil, gas and coal from the energy sector.

In India, rice cultivation and livestock are the two driving sources of methane. “Agriculture is responsible for about 20% of global methane emissions and includes enteric fermentation, which is the processing of food in the guts of cattle, mainly, but also includes how we manage the waste products that come from livestock and other agricultural activities,” said Poulter.

China’s economic expansion and large population drive the high demand for oil, gas and coal exploration for industry as well as agriculture production, which are its underlying sources of methane.

The Arctic and high-latitude regions are responsible for about 20% of global methane emissions. “What happens in the Arctic, doesn’t always stay in the Arctic,” Ott said. “There’s a massive amount of carbon that’s stored in the northern high latitudes. One of the things scientists are really concerned about is whether or not, as the soils warm, more of that carbon could be released to the atmosphere. Right now, what you’re seeing in this visualization is not very strong pulses of methane, but we’re watching that very closely because we know that’s a place that is changing rapidly and that could change dramatically over time.”

“One of the challenges with understanding the global methane budget has been to reconcile the atmospheric perspective on where we think methane is being produced versus the bottom-up perspective, or how we use country-level reporting or land surface models to estimate methane emissions,” said Poulter. “The visualization that we have here can help us understand this top-down and bottom-up discrepancy and help us also reduce the uncertainties in our understanding of the global methane budget by giving us visual cues and a qualitative understanding of how methane moves around the atmosphere and where it’s produced.”

The model data of methane sources and transport will also help in the planning of both future field and satellite missions. Currently, NASA has a planned satellite called GeoCarb that will launch around 2023 to provide geostationary space-based observations of methane in the atmosphere over much of the western hemisphere.

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From EurekAlert!

74 thoughts on “New 3D view of methane tracks sources

  1. Hmmm! <2ppm methane in the atmosphere last time I looked. Most of it comes from natural sources so what exactly is the point of their modelling?

    • You’re supposed to say 200 parts per billion, and really stress the billion to make it sound significant. Come on, let’s try together..

      200 parts-per-BILLION!

      See? much scarier than 2 ppm.

        • Quite correct, apologies for my error, two thousand parts per billion! Wow, that’s really scary!

          All together now..

          • “NASA’s new 3-dimensional portrait of methane concentrations shows the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming”

            H2O is first GHG, so methane has now outpaced CO2 or does this dickhead, Urea Alert “media studies” under-grad just know squat about the subject …. yet again.

            I mean you can’t even spin this world’s second largest “man made” contributor since most CH4 is natural.

          • 2000?!

            So… it is “Worse Than We Thought” and hence “It May Already Be Too Late”?

            And, ummm, “How Dare You!?”

            That covers everything, right?

          • Pre-industrial methane levels were 2 then 200 and now it’s 2000 – it’s a hockey stick!

            WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!

            SEND MONEY!

            (Gosh, this alarmism is easy)

      • Atmospheric CH4 concentrations of BILLION, …. TRILLION, …… or SMILLION of ppm…… doesn’t matter after the author made this claim in the 1st paragraph of the article, to wit:

        …. portrait of methane concentrations shows the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming,……..

    • The last time Methane came around on the “Warming” hit parade, didn’t the warmistas pick up their toys and leave when under sea vents proved significant for any serious measurement?

      Regards,

    • “Since the Industrial Revolution, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled. After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most influential greenhouse gas, responsible for 20 to 30% of Earth’s rising temperatures to date.”

      Let’s unpack this. Since I have never seen and historical data of past methane concentrations, where do they get this? I question this. Also, at less than 1/400ths of the concentration of CO2 and supposedly 20 times the greenhouse effect, methane is at most only 1/20ths of the effect of CO2 which is at most only 5%, after water vapor. That makes methane only 0.25% of the greenhouse effect. Their numbers are truly and totally wrong. Add to this the fact that the half-life of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere is only about 5 years. This is a rather dynamic factor.

      The icing on the cake is that no gas at any concentration can warm Earth’s surface as the air at altitude is always colder than the surface and thus cannot warm the surface by any means. It’s a thermodynamic non-starter, which show how junk the junk science of anthropogenic global warming really is.

  2. Gee golly gosh, this speculation fun can place demands for more superlatives than we can easily imagine! Awesome!
    Unprecedented!
    Sad. What happened to imagination-free, objective reporting of measurements, where quantitative beats qualitative, error bars beat arm waving and adjectives are superfluous?

  3. Now the solution is clear and resources can be allocated to stop the errant production of this dangerous gas. The Amazon basin can be made flood free, the northern tundra can be sealed up, cattle fodder can be pre-fermented in containers and the gas captured, Flooding of rice fields can be stopped through switching to another grain or developing dry land rice hybrids. By knowing the source the world can come together to fight this menace from thoughtless man and nature.

  4. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic” suggests an interesting arrangement, to wit: CFC’s originate in Eastern Chin and migrate to the Arctic (Antarctica especially) and pass, enroute, methane migrating from the arctic to eastern China. Wow! Bipolar? Regular crazy? Bizzare? Beyond my intellectual capacity?

  5. Every carbon based life form when it dies and rots ( anaerobic decomposition ) gives off methane – CH4. During summer particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, Methane molecules in the atmosphere break down and form CO2 and H2O.
    At the micro leve ,every gardener with a compost bin, knows a stinky bin (which is giving off methane) will be quickly sweetened when the vegetative matter is broken up and turned ( adding oxygen) and water if necessary . The ‘sweet’ smelling bin is now giving off CO2 and H2O.
    This is just another ‘chasing the climate change money ‘ scheme.

    • “every gardener with a compost bin, knows a stinky bin (which is giving off methane)”

      Is not methane an ODORLESS gas? What one smells from a compost bin is NOT methane!

      • After (water vapour), methane is the second most influential greenhouse gas.

        Richard, are you sure about that?

        Oxygen (O2), due to its enormous % or ppm is probably a far greater radiator of IR than is CO2 or even H2O vapor.

        In order, the most abundant greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are:

        Oxygen (O2) ————– 20.95% ———— 209,500 ppm
        Water vapor (H2O) ——– 0 to 4% —— 0 to 40,000 ppm
        Carbon dioxide (CO2) —- 0.0400% ————– 400 ppm
        Methane (CH4) ———– 0.00017% ————– 1.7 ppm
        Nitrous oxide (N2O) —— 0.00003% ————– 0.3 ppm
        Ozone (O3) —————- 0.000004% ———— 0.04 ppm
        IR radiation frequencies of the above greenhouse gases

          • RelPerm, your cited URL uploaded a “black” screen for me, …. was that meant to portray “nighttime” IR emissions?

            RelPerm stated: “High ppm of O2 does not make it the most effective green house gas.

            Are you not actually claiming that ….. 400 molecules/million of CO2 …… are actually capable of absorbing and re-emitting far more IR energy than …… 209,500 molecules/million of O2?

            Really now, …… 400 verses 209,500

            Not really surprising though, cause tens of millions of people also believe that ….. 400 molecules/million of CO2 …… are actually capable of absorbing and re-emitting far more IR energy than …… 30,000 to 40,000 molecules/million of H2O?

            YUP, ….. they actually believe the potential of 400 (CO2) is far, far, far greater than 40,000 (H2O) ….. even though the latter has 2.3 times greater Specific Heat Capacity than the former does.

            But those same millions attempt to CTA’s by assigning a Heat Index value to atmospheric H2O vapor ,,,, but not for atmospheric CO2.

    • No, run with their lies. That means only 80% is due to CO2. 50 % is due to CFCs. That means only 30% is due to CO2. Under 0.85 K Charney sensitivity as I estimated, all proven by warmist ‘research’.

    • I believe the correct answer is: “The first, second, third, fourth, and fifth most important greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere is – water vapor”

      There, all fixed!

      • GeologyJim,
        Don’t.
        Greta, and the all-purpose will Congressional whizz-kid AOC, will look to abolish the oceans, by about 2027.

        Auto
        Mods – I am not being sarky, I fear that the above is a reasonable projection!

  6. “After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most influential greenhouse gas, responsible for 20 to 30% of Earth’s rising temperatures to date”.

    What a load of rubbish, wrong on all counts.

    • And here was me believing water vapour in the form of clouds was the most abundant and influential greenhouse gas. Silly me…_

      • Oh boy…another model. I wonder how they will pick parameters for this one – using the lottery?

  7. “…responsible for 20 to 30% of Earth’s rising temperatures to date…”

    Really?

    I stopped skimming here.

    • NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center should better work on measuring methane than on modeling it.

        • You’re kidding, of course.

          Robert Goddard invented liquid fueled rockets, so he was a big name at NASA with a lot of things named after him. I think he would be ashamed of the work NASA is doing promoting catastrophic climate alarm at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

  8. How many billions have we spent restoring wetlands over the last 30 years? Clearly, that was a mistake. That land should be returned to their former owners and be paved over immediately.

  9. Reading through this it appears they are creating a model to find what they have already decided is a problem, not to find if there is a problem. The climate is just fine, doing exactly what it has been doing for millennia and animals, plants and humans are adapting to it just as they always have. Long past time to stop wasting effort and resources on what is not a problem and direct both to useful purposes.

  10. …the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere is shorter…

    This B.S. comes up in the arguments about water vapor too. So What? Here’s the LINK to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory where there’s a table of each annual increase in CH4 since 1984 where it is easy to find that the average annual increase of methane is about 6.4 ppb. By 2100 it is likely to have risen from 1877ppb to about 2400 ppb if that continues. What we are NEVER told is how much that increase will cause global temperatures to go up. Smart money says about 0.04°C which is essentially nothing. If anyone thinks it’s significantly different than that please say what it is and show your work.

    • The whole study’s conclusions could have been summarised as –
      “we don’t know what’s going on here”

  11. “(…) the world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming (…)”

    The largest contributor is water vapor.

    The second largest is methane?

    The author never heard of CO2?

    • Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it comes from EurekAlert! so it’s rubbish by definition.

  12. I find it striking that in the view accompanying the article that CH4 is generated over the open ocean and moves towards South America, westerlies being the prevailing winds. Undoubtedly there are additional sources, largely natural, over the continent but I would not have guessed the open ocean to be a source.

      • Thank you for the correction. I went back and googled the information and see that in the northerly part of SA the Trade Winds prevail, and in the southerly part it’s the Westerlies. Does ENSO have any significant effect on wind direction?

  13. The lower troposphere of Saturn’s moon, Titan, is 5% methane; its stratosphere is 1.4% methane. If the article’s theory is right, why isn’t Titan a hothouse? Instead, it’s surface temp is -179.2 degrees C.

  14. At 200 ppb, and 30x as strong as CO2, methane can only provide 1.5% of the heating by CO2, which we aren’t even sure we can detect. This reduces concern regarding methane to zero.

  15. The largest source by far of methane, a.k.a. swamp gas, is wetlands, not humans. It is unstable and breaks down relatively quickly to CO2 and H2O. This article is wrong on so many counts as many comments have noted.

  16. Happer and Wijngaarden produced a paper last year that concluded methane was not a warming problem.Seem like these modelers would have mentioned that line of study.

  17. Two things wrong with this article:
    ** world’s second largest contributor to greenhouse warming**
    **The model data of methane sources and transport **

    No neeed for more reading.

  18. The Abiogenic Hydrocarbons Guy
    But it is not just me. Include the USGS professional
    paper 1570 and Demetri Mendeleev among many
    others.

    The USGS says that there is abiotic natural gas
    under the earths crust, they just don’t say how it
    gets to the surface. It rises all around the earth,
    but it is not evenly distributed.

    In areas where there is adequate moisture and it
    is not blocked by impermeable rock layers, like the
    near surface granite layer around Atlanta, Ga.,
    the upwelling natural gas is consumed by aerobic
    microbes, enriching the soil according to the
    amount available. In Kansas, for example, enough
    rises to make the topsoil very rich to a depth
    of 1 meter or more. In middle Tennessee, the
    soil is not as black as Kansas, but a rich brown
    to ~1/2 meter.

    The picture produced by satellite of methane
    readings of the lower 48 US states paints a
    picture which has to be interrupted. (The
    picture published on WUWT, Oct. 11, 2014)

    The middle of the US exhibits some yellow
    peaking through the blue. This is the area
    which in which deep to very deep shale layers
    capture a substantial portion of upwelling
    hydrocarbons. These are currently known
    in the US as fossil fuels. The larger molecules
    which cannot pass through the shale layers
    and become pools of oil and natural gas
    are called “conventional” fossil fuels. Those
    which get trapped in shale layers are known
    as “shale oil or gas or tight hydrocarbons”
    The molecules which continue to rise into
    the layer of earth just below the surface, with
    adequate moisture, become topsoil.

    The molecules, which for some reason, were
    not captured or digested show up on the satellite
    image.

    In the far west, there is not enough moisture
    to support the microbial culture required to
    metabolize the large quantities of upwelling
    gas, resulting in “hot spots’ on the picture.

    One way of illustrating upwelling gas is to
    understand rice paddies. When the paddies
    are not flooded, the topsoil culture consumes
    the available food (gas). When they are flooded
    the gas rises faster than the culture can
    consume it. This is known in EPA and IPCC
    as human contributed natural gas.

    Another severe misunderstanding is the USEPA and the
    IPCC recognizes that there is natural gas in the top
    soil, but claim that it absorbed from the atmosphere.
    It is not. When natural gas hits the atmosphere, it rises.

    The US EPA lists the topsoil in the carbon balance as a 30GT/year
    carbon sink. This means that the “Carbon balance” is
    vastly incorrect.

  19. Great! Another program to provide us with another new reality. Undoubtedly, programmers are tuned to determine who need to be appropriate winners and losers so oil and gas producers will be modeled to be even bigger bad guys. Previous studies had them at #6 for human caused methane emissions increase. I’m sure they’ll get a promotion.

    Water vapor has been delisted as greenhouse gas. Another new reality to adjust too.

    We need to stop wasting resource on such useless activities such as measurement. Computer programs will tell us what reality really is. Let’s all vote for a few more billions of dollars for NASA!

  20. So besides our ***precious*** wetlands, the biggest source on methane is cow farts? What about those YUGE herds of ruminants that blackened the Great Plains before the white guys showed up? They didn’t fart?

  21. “After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most influential greenhouse gas,…

    I stopped reading at that point.

  22. NASA should be concentrating its efforts on fighting a real and present danger like Covid-19 and not frittering away its energy on Climate Fantasies and futile modelling.

    • NASA is trying to allay the horror of disparate impact under current American congress critters’ public instigation. As such, their mission has been expanded to confirm that those in western civilization who contend “… he who smelt it, dealt it …” are racist.

    • No. Nasa should be worrying about how to run the ISS without being stuck with Russian hospitality. They have no expertise in medicine or biology. We have plenty of Federal agencies in that space. FDA and CDC have been as much of a hindrance as a help.

  23. More colorful simulations run on models that use tons of assumptions. This is not measured data. We had so many models that got it wrong so far in all kinds of things that we don’t want to assume anymore. We want to know.

  24. Did I miss any attribution of CH4 to the 1000 trillion (give or take a few) termites happily digesting plants and producing CH4 as a byproduct?

  25. I understand that Ben Poulter is discussing things with the casual science media, but I do wish he would stop casually throwing around the word ‘carbon’ in his comments.

    He is meant to be a ‘scientist’. He is making a report on ‘science’. He can at least make the effort to not use MSM shorthand.

  26. I thought the amount of enteric methane was governed by the amount of grass eaten by the cows, grass that without the cows would grow and die and decompose, giving off CO2 & CH4. Cows can’t generate more CH4 than there is Carbon in their diet?

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