NOAA: Potent heat-trapping methane increases at record pace

Apr 7, 2022, 2:02 PM | Updated: 3:21 pm
FILE - A truck drops off a load of garbage at the South Kent Landfill in Byron Township, Mich., on ...

FILE - A truck drops off a load of garbage at the South Kent Landfill in Byron Township, Mich., on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. On Thursday, April 7, 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a study calculating that levels of the potent heat-trapping gas methane rose at a record pace in 2021. Methane comes from energy use, agriculture and landfills and is also natural. (Mike Clark/The Grand Rapids Press via AP, File)

(Mike Clark/The Grand Rapids Press via AP, File)

Global atmospheric levels of the potent but short-lived greenhouse gas methane increased a record amount last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday, worrying scientists because of the large role methane has in climate change.

The preliminary airborne level of methane jumped 17 parts per billion, hitting 1895.7 parts per billion last year. It’s the second year in a row that methane rose at a record rate with 2020 going up 15.3 ppb over 2019, according to NOAA. Methane levels are now way more than double pre-industrial levels of 720 parts per billion, said Lindsay Lan, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA and the University of Colorado.

Methane is a big contributor to climate change, leading to about a 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.5 degrees Celsius) increase in temperature since the 19th century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Carbon dioxide has caused about 50% more warming than methane.

“This trend of accelerating increase in methane is extremely disturbing,” said Cornell University methane researcher Robert Howarth.

Methane is about 25 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. But it only lasts nine years in the air instead of thousands of years like carbon dioxide, Lan said. Because it doesn’t last in the air long, many nations last year agreed to target methane for quick emission cuts as low hanging fruit in the global efforts to limit future warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius (2.7 or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. The world has already warmed 1.1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius (about 2 to 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit).

“To limit warming to well-below 2C this century, we need to cut our methane emissions dramatically, and today we are clearly moving in the wrong direction,” climate scientist Zeke Hausfather of Stripe and Berkeley Earth said in an email. “Cutting methane has strong immediate climate benefits, as it is the only greenhouse gas for which emission reductions can quickly cool the climate (versus slowing or stopping the rate of warming).”

NOAA has been tracking methane levels in the air since 1983.

Lan said early signs point more to natural causes for the methane jump, because of La Nina, the natural and temporary cooling of parts of the Pacific that change weather worldwide, but it’s still early. La Nina tends to make it rain more in some tropical regions and the two years in a row of record increases during La Nina points to methane escaping from wetlands, she said.

Methane is also a natural gas and an increasingly used energy source. Much methane comes out of livestock and human-generated agriculture, as well as from landfills. Scientists also fear future release of trapped methane under the ocean and in frozen Arctic land, but there’s no indication that’s happening on a large scale.

The key question is whether this increasing trend could add to climate change problems or is a pandemic-related blip due to the decrease in methane-destroying nitrous oxides from less car and industrial pollution, said Stanford University climate scientist Rob Jackson.

“It seems to be something else instead of COVID,” Lan said. She figures high levels in 2020 and then even higher levels in 2021, when lockdowns were eased, point away from a pandemic effect.

Both fossil fuels and agriculture are key in methane increases, Howarth said. But he said, “my research strongly points toward fossil fuels as being the largest cause of the increase since 2008, with increase emissions from shale gas production from fracking in the U.S. being a major part of that.”

In a study last year, Lan looked at the chemical isotopes to isolate where steady increases in methane emissions since 2006 may be coming from. The chemical signature pointed away from fossil fuels as the bigger guilty party and more toward either natural wetland emissions or agriculture, she said.

NOAA also said carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere last year increased 2.66 parts per million over 2020, one of the higher increases in history but not a record. The annual average for 2021 for carbon dioxide was 414.7 parts per million. Pre-industrial is about 280 parts per million. NOAA said carbon dioxide are now the highest since about 4.3 millions year when the sea level was about 75 feet (23 meters) higher and the average temperature was about 7 degrees Fahrenheit (3.9 degrees Celsius) warmer.

“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” said NOAA chief Rick Spinrad said in a statement.

___

Follow AP’s climate coverage at https://www.apnews.com/Climate

___

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Today in History: June 25, Anne Frank’s diary published

Today in History Today is Saturday, June 25, the 176th day of 2022. There are 189 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On June 25, 1876, Lt. Col. Colonel George A. Custer and his 7th Cavalry were wiped out by Sioux and Cheyenne Indians in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in […]
21 hours ago
FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Hong Kong's new Chief Executive Carrie Lam attend th...
Associated Press

China’s Xi to visit Hong Kong for handover anniversary

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong to celebrate next week’s 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China following a crackdown on a pro-democracy movement that has inflamed tension with Washington and Europe. Xi will attend an anniversary gathering and the first meeting of the new government of […]
21 hours ago
FILE - Planes sit on the tarmac at the Des Moines International Airport, Monday, June 13, 2022, in ...
Associated Press

Airlines aim to shift blame for flight problems to FAA

DALLAS (AP) — Airlines under scrutiny for widespread flight disruptions are renewing their criticism of the government agency that manages the nation’s airspace, saying that understaffing at the Federal Aviation Administration is “crippling” traffic along the East Coast. Airlines for America, which represents the largest U.S. carriers, said Friday it wants to know FAA’s staffing […]
21 hours ago
FILE - Investigators search for evidences outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 25, ...
Associated Press

Graduating Uvalde High School class remembers slain children

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Almost 300 high school seniors received their diplomas Friday in Uvalde in the shadow of the massacre of 19 elementary school students and two teachers one month earlier. The 288 red-gowned Uvalde High School seniors sat in 100-degree heat at the school stadium on the one-month anniversary of the mass shootings. […]
21 hours ago
Nancy Lee Grahn arrives with the words "Reproductive Freedom" on her body and carries a purse with ...
Associated Press

‘General Hospital’ sweeps supporting nods at Daytime Emmys

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Two “General Hospital” actors have won supporting honors at the Daytime Emmy Awards. Kelly Thiebaud plays Dr. Britt Westbourne and Jeff Kober portrays Cyrus Renault on the ABC drama. A gleeful Thiebaud won on her first nomination Friday night. “I cannot believe this. I am so shocked,” she said. “My brother, […]
21 hours ago
Associated Press

California GOP Rep. Valadao advances in US House district

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Rep. David Valadao advanced Friday to a November runoff in a Democratic-tilting district in California’s Central Valley, surviving a challenge from a fellow Republican who faulted the congressman for his vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump. With most of the votes tallied in the 22nd District, Valadao had about 26% of […]
21 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
CANVAS ANNUITY

Best retirement savings rates hit 4.30%

Maximize your retirement savings with guaranteed fixed rates up to 4.30%. Did you know there is a financial product that can give you great interest rates as you build your retirement savings and provide you with a paycheck for life once you retire? It might sound too good to be true but it is not; this product is called an annuity.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
NOAA: Potent heat-trapping methane increases at record pace