Nav: Home

Global fossil fuel emissions of hydrocarbons are underestimated

February 26, 2018

Global levels of ethane and propane in the atmosphere have been underestimated by more than 50%, new research involving scientists at the University of York has revealed.

These hydrocarbons are particularly harmful in large cities where, through chemical reactions with emissions from cars, they form ozone - a greenhouse gas which is a key component of smog and directly linked to increases in mortality.

Ethane and propane escape into the air from leaks during natural gas extraction and distribution, including from fracking - the process of drilling down into the earth and fracturing rock to extract shale gas. This new study shows that global fossil fuel emissions of these hydrocarbons have been underestimated and are a factor of 2-3 times higher than previously thought.

The authors of the international study involving researchers from York, Oslo and Colorado are now calling for further investigation into fossil fuel emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas which is emitted along with ethane and propane from natural gas sources.

Co-author of the study, Professor Lucy Carpenter from the Department of Chemistry at the University of York, said: "We know that a major source of ethane and propane in the atmosphere is from "fugitive" or unintentional escaping emissions during fossil fuel extraction and distribution. If ethane and propane are being released at greater rates than we thought, then we also need to carefully re-evaluate how much of the recent growth of methane in the atmosphere may also have come from oil and natural gas development. The current policy case for fracking, for example, is partly based on the belief that it is less polluting that coal."

The study used data collected from 20 observatories world-wide. The researchers from the University of York provided high-resolution data from a monitoring station in Cape Verde - a crucial location in the Atlantic which captures air blown over the Sahara, from North America, the Middle East and North Africa.

Like other hydrocarbons, when ethane and propane mix with nitrogen oxides from vehicles and power plants they form ozone in the troposphere - the lowest layer of the atmosphere that constitutes the air we breathe. While ozone in the Earth's second layer of atmosphere - the stratosphere - is desirable, ground level ozone has damaging consequences for ecosystems and human health.

Scientists need to understand accurately the levels of hydrocarbons in the atmosphere to predict the exposure of populations to ozone. This is particularly important for some suburban and rural areas which are already known to be on the edge of the limits of safe exposure.

Professor Ally Lewis, a co-author of the study from the Department of Chemistry at the University of York added: "Levels of ethane and propane declined in many places the 1980s and 1990s, but global growth in demand for natural gas means these trends may be reversing. The effects of higher ozone would be felt in the rural environment where it damages crops and plants, and in cities on human health.

"Tropospheric ozone causes a variety of serious health complaints and along with particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide is one of the three major causes of pollution-related deaths."
-end-
"Discrepancy between simulated and observed ethane and propane levels explained by underestimated fossil fuel emissions" is published today in Nature Geoscience.

University of York

Related Greenhouse Gas Articles:

Models, observations not so far apart on planet's response to greenhouse gas emissions
Recent observations suggest less long-term warming, or climate sensitivity, than the predicted by climate models.
Gas hydrate breakdown unlikely to cause massive greenhouse gas release
A recent interpretive review of scientific literature performed by the US Geological Survey and the University of Rochester sheds light on the interactions of gas hydrates and climate.
New Marcellus development boom will triple greenhouse gas emissions from PA's natural gas
Natural gas production on Pennsylvania's vast black shale deposit known as the Marcellus Shale will nearly double by 2030 to meet growing demand, tripling Pennsylvania's greenhouse gas emissions from the natural gas sector relative to 2012 levels, according to a report published today by Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
UCI scientists identify a new approach to recycle greenhouse gas
Using a novel approach involving a key enzyme that helps regulate global nitrogen, University of California, Irvine molecular biologists have discovered an effective way to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon monoxide (CO) that can be adapted for commercial applications like biofuel synthesis.
Bacterial mechanism converts nitrogen to greenhouse gas
Cornell University researchers have discovered a biological mechanism that helps convert nitrogen-based fertilizer into nitrous oxide, an ozone-depleting greenhouse gas.
Drying Arctic soils could accelerate greenhouse gas emissions
A new study published in Nature Climate Change indicates soil moisture levels will determine how much carbon is released to the atmosphere as rising temperatures thaw Arctic lands.
'Watchdog' for greenhouse gas emissions
Mistakes can happen when estimating emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
Greenhouse gas mitigation potential from livestock sector revealed
Scientists have found that the global livestock sector can maintain the economic and social benefits it delivers while significantly reducing emissions, and in doing so help meet the global mitigation challenge.
Greenhouse gas 'bookkeeping' turned on its head
For the first time scientists have looked at the net balance of the three major greenhouse gases -- carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide -- for every region of Earth's landmasses.
Soil frost affects greenhouse gas emissions in the Arctic
Soil frost is a nearly universal process in the Arctic.

Related Greenhouse Gas 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

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...