Sunday, November 1, 2009

What is the impact of methane to climate change and global warming?

The greenhouse gas that mostly contributes to global warming and climate change is carbon dioxide (CO2). The second most harmful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming is methane(CH4). Methane is mostly emitted by agriculture(the most famous source comes from cows burping), though methane is also released from fossil fuels burning (coal and natural gas). Currently widely accepted conclusion is that methane is 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide, meaning it is 25 times better at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2. However some latest studies imply that methane is much more potent than most scientists agree, up to 33 times better at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2, at least this is what Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies said in its latest report.

All current efforts about reaching new climate are oriented on reducing CO2 emissions with very little or no emphasis on other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, such as methane. There is no doubt that main emphasis has to be set on carbon emissions but we must not forget to deal with other greenhouse gas emissions too, because for instance methane breaks down more quickly in the atmosphere so methane emission cuts will have a more immediate effect.

Also greenhouse gases like methane and carbon monoxide have negative effects on sulfate aerosols as these greenhouse gases reduce them by using up oxidants such as hydroxyl in the atmosphere. Fewer oxidant molecules are thus available to oxidize sulfur dioxide to produce sulfate. Sulfate molecules have a cooling effect on the climate as they reflect heat but more methane there is in the atmosphere the less sulfates will be, and therefore the cooling effect will be significantly reduced.

Climate change is not a one-dimensional problem, and the only cause for climate change are not CO2 emissions, though they are definitely the main source of global warming. This does not mean that we should neglect other greenhouse gases, especially methane who is much more potent greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide because reducing methane emissions can also help decrease ever-growing impact of global warming. Future political decisions regarding new climate deal should be well aware of this.

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