Nav: Home

Diffusing the methane bomb: We can still make a difference

February 06, 2019

Permafrost is soil that remains frozen for two or more consecutive years. It is usually composed of rock, soil, sediments, and varying amounts of ice that bind the elements together. The permafrost of the Arctic landscape represents one of the largest natural reservoirs of organic carbon in the world. When the permafrost thaws, the soil microbes contained in the soil can turn the carbon into carbon dioxide and methane, which are both greenhouse gases that are known to contribute to global warming when released into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is currently happening as a result of climate change. In fact, the massive amounts of methane that could potentially be released as a result of permafrost thaw, has often been described as a ticking time bomb and has long been a concern for climate scientists.

A study by researchers from IIASA, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, however, suggests that it is possible to neutralize the natural gas threat that lies in wait under the Arctic soil. The team looked at several possible future scenarios, including some where the world continues to release manmade carbon and methane emissions into the atmosphere at the current rate, and some where we meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.

In their analysis, the researchers quantified the upper range value for natural methane emissions that can be released from the Arctic tundra, as it allows it to be put in relation to the much larger release of methane emissions from human activities. Although estimates of the release of methane from natural sources in the Arctic and estimates of methane from human activity have been presented separately in previous studies, this is the first time that the relative contribution of the two sources to global warming has been quantified and compared.

"It is important to put the two estimates alongside each other to point out how important it is to urgently address methane emissions from human activities, in particular through a phase out of fossil fuels. It is important for everyone concerned about global warming to know that humans are the main source of methane emissions and that if we can control humans' release of methane, the problem of methane released from the thawing Arctic tundra is likely to remain manageable," explains Lena Höglund-Isaksson, a senior researcher with the IIASA Air Quality and Greenhouse Gases Program and one of the authors of the study published in Nature Scientific Reports earlier this week.

According to the researchers, their findings confirm the urgency of a transition away from a fossil fuel based society as well as the importance of reducing methane emissions from other sources, in particular livestock and waste. The results indicate that man-made emissions can be reduced sufficiently to limit methane-caused climate warming by 2100 even in the case of an uncontrolled natural Arctic methane emission feedback. This will however require a committed, global effort towards substantial, but feasible reductions.

"In essence, we want to convey the message that the release of methane from human activities is something we can do something about, especially since the technology for drastic reductions is readily available - often even at a low cost. If we can only get the human emissions under control, the natural emissions should not have to be of major concern," concludes Höglund-Isaksson.
-end-
Reference:

Christensen TR, Arora VK, Gauss M, Höglund-Isaksson L, & Parmentier F-JW (2019). Tracing the climate signal: mitigation of anthropogenic methane emissions can outweigh a large Arctic natural emission increase. Nature Scientific Reports DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-37719-9 [pure.iiasa.ac.at/id/eprint/15736]

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...