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Why is there so much methane in the air? We may finally know

By in Press Enterprise on January 8, 2018

By Steve Scauzillo

While most countries focus on reducing carbon dioxide in the battle to slow the rate of global climate change, scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge point to methane, a sometimes overlooked greenhouse gas that traps heat in the Earth’s upper atmosphere and also contributes to ground-level smog.

Previous studies show massive annual increases in atmospheric methane since 2006, including the second-largest hot spot in the nation above the farm-rich Central Valley and the Los Angeles air basin, but the scientific community was puzzled what was causing the methane increases.

By using satellites and isotopes that help track the origin of methane molecules, scientists from JPL found the increase could be traced to leakage from drilling and transport operations and microbial production from rice farming and natural wetlands, according to a JPL study released Tuesday.

The scientific community says the study, published in the journal Nature Communications, helped solve the puzzle of the rapidly increasing levels of a greenhouse gas that is 30 times more potent than CO2.

“We need to understand atmospheric methane because it is a very important greenhouse gas and it contributes to smog. We want to know what forms it and what destroys it,” said JPL scientist John Worden, the study’s co-author, during an interview Wednesday .

Worden and his team looked at methane emissions from fire-ravaged areas throughout the globe to help them calculate the methane increases and pinpoint their origin. They found fewer burnt areas from 2002 to 2014 and a large decrease of methane and CO2 emissions from the fires. “The reduced fires are reducing methane in the atmosphere. Fewer fires means fewer fire emissions,” Worden said.

The reduction in fire emissions set off the increases of atmospheric methane. The team calculated that about 17 teragrams per year is due to fossil fuels and another […]    

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