Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations

The Greenhouse Effect: Dangers of Methane

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The Methane Molecule

The methane molecule binds heat because of its make up.

“Keeping methane emissions in check is essential to prevent global warming.”

By Linn Smith

As we battle the effects of climate change we must also educate ourselves about the changes taking place in our atmosphere. The two main components humans are dumping into our atmosphere that are contributing to the greenhouse effect are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane(CH4).

CO2 vs Methane

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the emission we think of as creating the greatest impact on global warming. The least talked about until recently is methane. The increase in fracking for natural gas has resulted in an increase of methane in our atmosphere.

A 2015 study published in ScienceMagazine.org revealed that emissions of methane in our atmosphere was approximately 60% greater than has been estimated by the EPA, as the EPA did not include the emissions from fracking and drilling sites not currently active.

Methane leaks by oil rigs

Methane leaking in the U.S.

Satellite Detection of Methane

As stated in my previous article, https://planetearth5.com/2014/10/30/the-hottest-spot-of-methane-in-the-u-s/, data from satellites have detected the largest gas leaks from major sources. Newer and more efficient satellites, MethaneSAT, are due to be launched in 2021. These satellites are so advanced they will be able to pinpoint individual producers of greenhouse gases from oil rigs.

Methane

The make up of the methane molecule.

Methane and the Greenhouse Effect

What then makes methane so deadly to our plMethaneanet? When we hear the term greenhouse effect, it isn’t all negative. Some of it is a natural process of keeping the earth warm so we can inhabit it. The sun’s rays make their way to Earth, trapping some of the energy in our atmosphere where the natural greenhouse gases are interconnected with the energy of the sun making our planet livable.

The Scientific Explanation of Greenhouse Gases

The greenhouse gases are molecules made up of 3 or more atoms bound together loosely so they can vibrate when they absorb heat. This keeps heat near the Earth’s surface. Most of the gas in our atmosphere is made up of oxygen and nitrogen which are made up of 2 atoms bound together more tightly than the greenhouse gas molecules, which are three or more atoms. Two atoms bound together can’t vibrate as three or more atoms do, so they can’t absorb the sun’s heat as it travels back from earth into space. The vibrating and absorption of heat by the molecules made up of 3 or more atoms causes the greenhouse effect.

Methane is made up of 5 atoms and carbon dioxide of 3, so methane is able to absorb far more heat than CO2 even though there is less methane in our atmosphere. The more methane and CO2 flood our atmosphere, the greater the greenhouse effect because of their 3 and 5 atom makeup. The methane molecule can stay 10 or more years in the earth’s atmosphere, not as long as carbon dioxide but binding more unwanted heat in its molecules. For more information see: UCAR Center for Science Education (scied.ucar.edu).

Methane a greenhouse gas

84 times more potent than co2.

Global Warming Potential of Methane

According to National Geographic.com, “The 20 year global warming potential of methane is 84. That is, over a 20 year period it traps 84 times more heat per mass unit than CO2 and 32 times the effect when accounting for aerosol interactions. Global methane concentrations rose from 722 parts per billion (ppb) in pre-industrial times to 1866 ppb in 2019.” Methane has risen more than 150% ppm since the 1700s. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has warned that keeping methane emissions in check is essential to prevent global warming.

In 2016 during the Obama administration, steps were put in place to regulate the fracking and drilling industries’ emission of methane, cutting the total emissions in half by 2025. Last month the Trump administration announced they had plans to loosen these regulations.

Emissions of methane

Methane is a greenhouse gas.

As these more dangerous gases are released into our atmosphere by gas vehicles, industry, drilling and heating our homes, our planet continues to move towards an unbalanced system. This will continue in the future to cause our earth to warm, weather to be more extreme, ice to melt in the arctic and many species to become extinct…..possibly even humans. So sense of urgency? Yes, because our focus on wealth by and for continuous development in the private sector, industry and government seems to be speaking louder than our suffering planet.

Methane: A greenhouse gas

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Author: Planet Earth Weekly

My goal, as a responsible adult, is to leave a planet that people, plants, and animals can continue to occupy comfortably. I am an educator by profession. While educating myself on Climate Change and Renewable Resources, I hope to share my knowledge and images with those that share my concern. Dr. John J. Hidore is a retired professor from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and I am proud to call him my Uncle. His work has taken him to regions across the globe—including the Middle East, where he conducted research for a year in the Sudan. He has written many books, such as Climatology: An Atmospheric Science and Global Environmental Change.----Linn Smith Planet Earth Weekly recently passed 30,000 views!

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