Blog: Methane and the Fierce Urgency of Now

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By Nathan Currier. 6th November 2011. Dear methane friends – I’m hoping that you might enjoy taking a look at my recent article at the Huffington Post, Methane and the Fierce Urgency of Now, which I hope will be the first of a series focusing on methane in climate policy from a variety of angles. If you like it, please post comments on their site, or just hit the “like” button, as that could help with future pieces becoming “featured” posts, getting linked to their Facebook page, etc. The idea is to help raise public awareness of the significance of methane for near-term climate policy. Further, if any of you have direct comments on it for me, or ideas re future pieces to bring methane issues before the public, I’d enjoy your feedback. Many thanks. Nathan

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Blog: Mineral Soils: A Future Methane Sink? Scientific Evidence and Policy Considerations

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By Katie Lim. 21st June 2011.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with rising emissions attributed to anthropogenic activity. Whilst current mitigation policies focus primarily on decreasing emissions, the implications of climate change on current methane sinks are largely ignored. This article examines the potential consequences of increased precipitation caused by climate change on methane production in mineral soils within the UK, and the adaption measures which should be considered in the future.

Mineral Soils as Methane Sinks

Soils are vital as they are the sole methane sink potentially managed or manipulated by man. The methane flux emitted from a soil is a delicate balance of the simultaneously occurring production and oxidation processes occurring within. In most soils, the high-affinity methanotrophic bacteria controlling methane oxidation exist in abundance concurrent with negligible internal production. Hence, mineral soils are generally classed as sinks for budget calculations, as any methane produced may be oxidized in situ before reaching the atmosphere.

Future UK Climate and Impacts of Methane Production

Progressive climatic changes are predicted to impact the UK. The UK Climate Projections (UKCP09) describe probabilistic projections of future changes in climate in the UK over the 21st century based on observed trends and climate models, with the intention to provide a basis for impact studies and adaption measures. Observed data indicates that although the annual mean precipitation has not significantly changed since 1766, it is evident nevertheless that the rainfall pattern is changing. On average, precipitation has increased in winter and decreased in summer, in addition to heavy precipitation events becoming much more frequent [1].

Frequent or seasonal water saturation promotes anoxic conditions in the soil, which favours conditions for microbially-mediated methanogenesis. Mineral soils undergoing such water saturation have even been shown to act as a net source of methane [2]. 43% of UK soils have impeded drainage and consequently the predicted rise in heavy precipitation events may induce an increase in methane production or potentially change the capability of such UK soils to act as a methane source rather than a sink.

Current Policies and Implications for Adaption Measures

Methane is one of the six greenhouse gases targeted in the Kyoto Protocol [3], which requires that collective greenhouse gas emissions within the EU must be reduced 8% below 1990 levels by 2012. The EU has further committed to reducing emissions by 2020 by 20% [4]; moreover the UK has set an additional target of 80% below 1990 baseline by 2080 [5]. In an effort to both mitigate emissions and consider future climate impacts, the European Commission published a White Paper [6] in 2009 presenting the framework for adaptation measures. Among its aims was a commitment to improve knowledge and availability of potential climatic effects, and to consider such plausible adaptation measures in relevant policies. The scientific evidence suggesting that anthropogenic climate change does not solely impact methane sources argues that future challenges lie in predicting other potential indirect consequences, of which increased knowledge are required. Furthermore adaptation policies should not only account for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also consider other relevant implications with future climatic change including the subsequent effects of climate change on methane sinks.

Our research focuses on investigating the microbial influences on methane flux in such water-saturated mineral soils using a combination of novel biomolecular proxies and stable isotope probing methods. For more information on this and other projects being carried out in the Organic Geochemistry Unit please see http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/ogu/ or contact k.lim@bristol.ac.uk.


References

[1] Jenkins, G. J., et al, 2009, UK Climate Projections: Briefing report. Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK. [2] Teh, Y. A., et al, 2005, Global Change Biology 11 (8), 1283-1297. [3] http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.pdf [4] http://ec.europa.eu/clima/news/index_en.htm [5] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/27/contents [6] European Commission, 2009, White paper – Adapting to climate change: towards a European framework for action, Brussels.

Blog: Methane Brought to Book

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By Gail Riekie. 13th October 2010.

In the book ‘Methane and Climate Change’ edited by Dave Reay, Pete Smith and André van Amstel, and published in May 2010, research from many disciplines is brought together to provide an overview of the different methane sources and the potential for controlling emissions.

I asked MethaneNet colleague Dave Reay about the thinking behind the book. “We decided to put this book together using the tried and tested question of ‘is this a book I’d like to have?’. There was nothing available that I could find that brought all the current knowledge on methane and climate change, especially methane mitigation, together in one place. So we had a go at producing it”.

“The key issues were to include some discussion in all the chapters of how climate change may itself lead to changes in methane fluxes from the various major sources. As ever, we also had to make sure we conveyed the uncertainties in this and in the estimates of current source strengths e.g wetlands”.

The book aims to provide the graduate student and academic research community with a single source reference point on the subject. It is published by Earthscan and available from the usual online sources.

A Win-Win Situation?

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3rd February 2012.

Actions to combat global warming are frequently cast by climate-change deniers as absurdly expensive, impractical, or unlikely to make any tangible difference in a time-scale meaningful to humans. However, a comprehensive new study has identified a range of practical and economically viable measures that are shown both to mitigate near-term climate change and to improve human health and food security (Shindell et al., 2012).

The starting point for this work is that tropospheric ozone and black carbon (BC) are known to degrade air quality and to cause warming, thus actions to reduce amounts of these agents promise multiple benefits. Methane enters the equation as a precursor of ozone and in its own right as a powerful greenhouse gas with a relatively short atmospheric lifespan.

Using the IIASA-GAINS* model, the authors narrowed down ~400 existing pollution control measures to 14 options, all based on current technologies, which have the combined potential to achieve nearly 90% of the maximum modelled net GWP reduction. Of these, seven target methane emissions.  MethaneNet members who attended our ‘Methane Hack’ meeting at the Geological Society last December will already by familiar with these mitigation options, which cover coal mining, oil and gas production and transport, waste and landfills, waste water, livestock manure and rice paddies.

Based on the 14 prioritised measures, the authors modelled future emissions scenarios and, using the ECHAM5-HAMMOZ and GISS-PUCCINI three dimensional composition climate models, calculated their warming impact. The impacts on health and agriculture were calculated separately. Overall, the work demonstrates that the 14 measures could significantly reduce the global mean temperature over the next two decades, although the authors emphasise that only when the methane and BC measures are combined with actions to mitigate CO2 emissions is the target of limiting the global temperature increase to less than 2°C achieved. The methane control measures contribute more than half the warming mitigation with the lowest associated uncertainties.

Finally, a cost and benefits valuation based on the VSL (value of a statistical life), world prices for crops and the SCC (social cost of carbon) was conducted. The figures calculated are highly dependent on the time span considered and the discount rate. However, even a conservative selection of the metrics used indicates that the benefits of implementing these methane and BC abatement measures far outweigh the costs.

The study also considered the impacts of the 14 control measures by region and sector. The greatest benefit arises from controlling methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction and transportation. The single most significant measure would be to tackle methane emissions from Chinese coal mines.

Professor David Fowler of the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology sums up this major study thus. “The strength of the approach is that there are many benefits and modest costs and if we compare what is possible with these measures against the glacial progress with control measures through UNFCCC, here we have some relatively quick wins.  We still urgently need to control CO2 emissions, but the returns are longer term.”

*International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis Greenhouse gas and Air Pollution Interactions and Synergies

Reference: 

Drew Shindell, Johan C. I. Kuylenstierna, Elisabetta Vignati, Rita van Dingenen, Markus Amann, Zbigniew Klimont, Susan C. Anenberg, Nicholas Muller, Greet Janssens-Maenhout, Frank Raes, Joel Schwartz, Greg Faluvegi, Luca Pozzoli, Kaarle Kupiainen, Lena Höglund-Isaksson, Lisa Emberson, David Streets, V. Ramanathan, Kevin Hicks, N. T. Kim Oanh, George Milly, Martin Williams, Volodymyr Demkine, and David Fowler (2012). Simultaneously mitigating near-term climate change and improving human health and food security. Science, 335, 183-189.