3. What are the Greenhouse Gases?

Non-chronological links:

EPA GHG data - 2010 Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities

Explaining how the water vapor greenhouse effect works. From Skeptical Science.

The Greenhouse Effect. Interactive Simulation from University of Colorado on how greenhouse gases affect the climate. Settings for ice age and today, number of clouds, greenhouse gas concentration. Compare the effect of glass panes. Model how light interacts with molecules. [The name "PhET" originally meant "Physics Education Technology," but now includes simulations about many things, not just physics.

Articles from 2001–present

2021-08-02. [] - Scientists expected thawing wetlands in Siberia’s permafrost. What they found is ‘much more dangerous.’ Source: By Steven Mufson, The Washington Post. Excerpt: A 2020 heat wave unleashed methane emissions from prehistoric limestone in two regions stretching 375 miles, study says. ...Scientists have long been worried about what many call “the methane bomb” — the potentially catastrophic release of methane from thawing wetlands in Siberia’s permafrost. But now a study by three geologists says that a heat wave in 2020 has revealed a surge in methane emissions “potentially in much higher amounts” from a different source: thawing rock formations in the Arctic permafrost. The difference is that thawing wetlands releases “microbial” methane from the decay of soil and organic matter, while thawing limestone — or carbonate rock — releases hydrocarbons and gas hydrates from reservoirs both below and within the permafrost, making it “much more dangerous” than past studies have suggested.... 

2021-07-01. [] - Capping methane-spewing oil wells, one hole at a time. Source: By Nick Ehli, The Washington Post. Excerpt: Across the United States, abandoned wells are belching the powerful greenhouse gas. This group aims to plug them to fight global warming. ..

2021-06-02. [] - Here Are America’s Top Methane Emitters. Some Will Surprise You. Source: By Hiroko Tabuchi. The New York Times Excerpt: As the world’s oil and gas giants face increasing pressure to reduce their fossil fuel emissions, small, privately held drilling companies are becoming the country’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, often by buying up the industry’s high-polluting assets. According to a new analysis of the latest emissions data disclosed to the Environmental Protection Agency, five of the industry’s top ten emitters of methane, a particularly potent planet-warming gas, are little-known oil and gas producers, some backed by obscure investment firms, whose environmental footprints are wildly large relative to their production. ...The largest emitter, Hilcorp Energy, reported almost 50 percent more methane emissions from its operations than the nation’s largest fossil fuel producer, Exxon Mobil, despite pumping far less oil and gas. Four other relatively unknown companies — Terra Energy Partners, Flywheel Energy, Blackbeard Operating and Scout Energy — each reported emitting more of the gas than many industry heavyweights.... 

2021-05-21. [] - The Surprising Root of the Massachusetts Fight Against Natural Gas. Source: By Jenessa Duncombe, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: ...Beacon Hill street in Boston ...many of the trees have grown ill and died in the past several years. ...Camargo and many others blame natural gas leaks as a driving cause of the trees’ afflictions. The city has thousands of gas leaks in old, cracked pipes and joints under sidewalks and streets. ...Today Massachusetts has some of the most progressive laws in the country regulating gas leaks. They’re largely thanks to a powerful coalition of organizations and researchers called Gas Leaks Allies taking the state’s energy system to task. The movement to plug leaks has gained steam over the past 2 decades and evolved into a campaign to quit natural gas altogether. Although the campaign has broad ambitions, the movement started with protecting community trees. The fight in Boston over the future of natural gas is also playing out across the country. Municipalities like San Francisco have banned gas in new buildings, and President Joe Bidensingled out gas leaks in an executive order on combating climate change. ...The United States is the second-largest producer of methane emissions in the world, behind Russia.... 

2021-05-10. [] - Gas Flaring Declined in 2020, Study Finds. Source: By Shola Lawal, The New York Times. Excerpt: Gas flaring worldwide decreased by 5 percent in the pandemic year, mostly because of lower demand for oil, according to a recent report from the World Bank. While the overall drop was expected, the report offered a detailed picture of the flaring activities around the world, with steep declines in some areas, like the United States, and surprising increases in others, notably China. Flaring occurs when the gas that emerges with crude oil is burned off rather than captured. That burning emits carbon dioxide, a gas that is the main contributor to climate change. ...According to the report, Russia was responsible for more flaring overall than any other country in 2020, contributing 15 percent of the global total. ...The other top flaring countries, according to the report, were Iraq, Iran, the United States, Algeria, Venezuela and Nigeria. ...China saw the biggest percentage increase among the top 30 countries, with a surge of 35 percent despite the country’s oil production remaining flat. The report cited testing in new oil fields in the country’s remote northwest. The increase moved China up to 9th place overall in flaring volume, from 15th in 2019. The United States recorded a significant 32 percent drop in 2020 from the year before, mainly because of new infrastructure to capture gas that otherwise would have been flared.... 

2021-05-03. E.P.A. to Sharply Limit Powerful Greenhouse Gases. By Lisa Friedman, The New York Times. Excerpt: WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency moved on Monday to sharply reduce the use and production of powerful greenhouse gases central to refrigeration and air-conditioning, part of the Biden administration’s larger strategy of trying to slow the pace of global warming.The agency proposed to regulate hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, a class of man-made chemicals that are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the planet. The proposal is the first significant step the E.P.A. has taken under President Biden to curb climate change. The move is also the first time the federal government has set national limits on HFCs, which were used to replace ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons in the 1980s but have turned out to be a significant driver of global warming. More than a dozen states have either banned HFCs or are formulating some restrictions.... [] See also Washington Post article, Swift action to cut methane emissions could slow Earth’s warming by 30 percent, study finds.

2021-03-26. Drillers Burned Off Gas at a Staggering Rate as Winter Storm Hit Texas. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: As Texas was crippled last month by frigid temperatures that killed more than 100 people and triggered widespread blackouts, drilling companies in the state’s largest oil field were forced to burn off an extraordinary amount of natural gas — on the worst day, an amount that could have powered tens of thousands of homes for at least a year. The need to intentionally burn off, or flare, an estimated 1.6 billion cubic feet of gas in a single day — a fivefold increase from rates seen before the crisis, according to satellite analysis — came as the state’s power plants went offline and pipelines froze, so the wells simply had no place to send the natural gas still streaming out of the ground. As a result, the gas had to be set ablaze, fueling towering flames, the highest of which can reach hundreds of feet into the air. ... in recent years, researchers and environmental groups have raised growing concerns over the climate-change consequences of turning to natural gas. Flaring is one reason. Burning off unused gas instead of capturing it not only wastes a valuable energy source, it emits carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is the main contributor to climate change. ...But flaring is also damaging because the burning is sometimes incomplete, so it can also release uncombusted gases into the atmosphere, chiefly methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the shorter term.... []

2021-03-01. The Surprising Source of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. By Sarah Derouin, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: A belching coal plant is easy to identify as a probable greenhouse gas polluter. Coal emissions are point source pollution—like a chemical spill in a stream, the pollution can be traced back to a specific activity at a precise place. ... A team of scientists recently took a different approach to estimating carbon dioxide: the bottleneck method. Instead of considering the pollution emitted only at the end use, burning phase of fossil fuel use, the researchers considered all phases: mining, transport, refining, and burning. Their study identified the worst emissions offenders, and the results were surprising: oil and gas pipelines. The researchers noted that the companies enabling greenhouse gases emissions are most at risk of climate mitigation lawsuits. ...The new study, published in Energies, introduces the bottleneck method. ...Using the bottleneck method, all emissions a facility enables are considered in carbon tallies, including extraction, transport, and end use. “Bottlenecks are the limiting factor for a total amount of emissions,” said Pearce.... [

2021-02-15. There’s an invisible climate threat seeping from grocery store freezers. Biden wants to change that. By Juliet Eilperin and Desmond Butler, The New York Times. Excerpt: Some of the climate impacts of a grocery store trip are obvious, like the fuel it takes to get there and the electricity that keeps its lights glowing, conveyor belts moving and scanners beeping. But then there are the invisible gases seeping out into the atmosphere when you reach for your ice cream of choice. In nearly every supermarket in America, a network of pipes transports compressed refrigerants that keep perishable goods cold. Most of these chemicals are hydrofluorocarbons — greenhouse gases thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide — which often escape through cracks or systems that were not properly installed. Once they leak, they are destined to pollute the atmosphere. The Biden administration now sees eliminating these chemicals from the nation’s refrigerators as low-hanging fruit in its broader effort to rein in climate pollutants. ...Under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, which passed in December, the EPA must phase down the production and import of these potent greenhouse gases 85 percent over the next 15 years.... [

2021-01-29. What a New Executive Order Means for Curbing Methane Emissions. By Rishika Pardikar, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: On 20 January, the new administration of President Joe Biden issued an executive order calling for consideration of new methane regulations in the oil and gas sector. More stringent regulations could be a major part of climate change mitigation, as the United States is the world’s largest producer of natural gas with steadily increasing production. ...Biden’s executive order comes just days after the release of a Methane Tracker report released by the International Energy Agency on 18 January. “Regulatory action to reduce methane emissions is more important now than ever before.…[Because] oil and gas will continue to be part of the energy mix for years to come, even in rapid clean energy transitions, it is crucial for the oil and gas industry to be proactive in limiting, in all ways possible, the environmental impact of their supply,” according to the report.... [

2020-10-30. These Zombies Threaten the Whole Planet. By Alec Jacobson, The New York Times. Excerpt: ...Canada has committed to reducing its planet-warming carbon emissions and has singled out the oil and gas industry as the source of almost half of the country’s annual emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas that can have 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over 20 years. Alberta, the heart of Canadian hydrocarbon extraction, has set a goal of a 45 percent drop in the industry’s methane footprint from active infrastructure by 2025. But the inactive wells — the ones no longer producing oil or natural gas but many still lingering in suspension like zombies — may be as big a threat to the planet. After decades of booms and busts, an enormous backlog of these inactive wells has built up, and it grows about 6 percent each year. There are now 97,920 wells... that are licensed as temporarily suspended, compared to the province’s 160,000 active wells. The inactive wells are unlikely to be switched on ever again but have not yet been decommissioned. No one knows how many are leaking methane and other pollutants.... [

2020-10-21. Belching Cows and Endless Feedlots: Fixing Cattle’s Climate Issues. By Henry Fountain, The New York Times. Excerpt: HAPPY, Texas — Randy Shields looked out at a sea of cattle at the sprawling Wrangler Feedyard — 46,000 animals milling about in the dry Panhandle air.... its most basic, the business simply takes something that people can’t eat, and converts it into something they can: beef. That’s possible because cattle have a multichambered stomach where microbes ferment grass and other tough fibrous vegetation, making it digestible. “The way I look at it, I’ve got 46,000 fermentation vats going out there,” Mr. Shields said. But this process, called enteric fermentation, also produces methane, a potent planet-warming gas that the cattle mostly belch into the air. ...Researchers within and outside the industry are working on ways to reduce emissions from fermentation, through feed supplements or dietary changes. ...In the United States, cattle are far from the largest source of greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane and others. Their total contribution is dwarfed by the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and industry. But livestock are among the largest sources of methane, which can have 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide although it persists for less time. ...cattle methane is part of a relatively short cycle. The methane results from eating vegetation that has grown by taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. After about a decade, the methane breaks down, forming carbon dioxide, which is used for more plant growth. In effect, the animals are recycling carbon over a short time frame, so if the cattle population remains roughly the same, the contribution to warming remains about the same. “It’s leaving the atmosphere as fast as it’s coming,” said Alan Rotz, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who has studied emissions from beef production.... [

2020-07-16. Southern Iraq’s Toxic Twilight. By Alissa J. Rubin and Clifford Krauss, The New York Times. Excerpt: Iraq is the rare country that imports gas but also burns natural gas from oil wells into the air. The wasted gas is enough to power three million homes. Burning it is making people sick. ...The chemicals in the air — in Nahran Omar and other oil towns across southern Iraq — come from the smoky orange flames atop the oil wells, burning away the natural gas that bubbles up with the oil. Many countries have reduced the practice, known as flaring, in part because it wastes a precious resource. ...flaring also produces chemicals that can pollute the air, land and water. It has been shown to worsen asthma and hypertension, contribute to the incidence of some cancers and speed climate change. Iraq, however, still flares more than half the natural gas produced by its oil fields, more than any other country except Russia. ...After years of delays, Iraq opened a large recapture plant in Basra in 2018 at a cost of an estimated $1.5 billion, according to oil industry experts. But the plant is only a first step: it recovers a little more than half of the gas from three large oil fields. There are 15 oil fields in Basra Province alone. The Oil Ministry announced plans last month  to develop plants that would recover most of the gas that is now flared in southern Iraq. Mr. Ghadban said the projects would be operational in two to three years.... [

2020-07-14. Global Methane Emissions Reach a Record High. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: Global emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, soared to a record high in 2017, the most recent year for which worldwide data are available, researchers said Tuesday. And they warned that the rise — driven by fossil fuel leaks and agriculture — would most certainly continue despite the economic slowdown from the coronavirus crisis, which is bad news for efforts to limit global warming and its grave effects. The latest findings, published on Tuesday in two scientific journals [], underscore how methane presents a growing threat, even as the world finds some success in reining in carbon dioxide emissions, the most abundant greenhouse gas and the main cause of global warning. ...Methane, a colorless, odorless gas a powerful greenhouse gas that traps the sun’s heat, warming the earth 86 times as much as the same mass of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.... []  

2020-07-12. Fracking Firms Fail, Rewarding Executives and Raising Climate Fears. By Hiroko Tabuchi, The New York Times. Excerpt: The day the debt-ridden Texas oil producer MDC Energy filed for bankruptcy eight months ago, a tank at one of its wells was furiously leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. As of last week, dangerous, invisible gases were still spewing into the air. By one estimate, the company would need more than $40 million to clean up its wells if they were permanently closed. But the debts of MDC’s parent company now exceed the value of its assets by more than $180 million. In the months before its bankruptcy filing, though, the company managed to pay its chief executive $8.5 million in consulting fees, .... Oil and gas companies in the United States are hurtling toward bankruptcy at a pace not seen in years, driven under by a global price war and a pandemic that has slashed demand. And in the wake of this economic carnage is a potential environmental disaster — unprofitable wells that will be abandoned or left untended, even as they continue leaking planet-warming pollutants, and a costly bill for taxpayers to clean it all up. Still, as these businesses collapse, millions of dollars have flowed to executive compensation.... []  

2020-05-01. The Business of Burps: Scientists Smell Profit in Cow Emissions. By Adam Satariano, The New York Times. Excerpt: Cattle produce more methane than many large countries. A solution could be an ecological and financial breakthrough — and a Swiss biotech company may be on the cusp. the last five years, a collection of companies and scientists has been getting closer to what would be an ecological and financial breakthrough: an edible product that would change cows’ digestive chemistry and reduce their emission of methane. Several companies are pursuing a seaweed-based compound, and a Dutch firm, DSM, is testing a chemical supplement with promising results. Mootral is one of the furthest along. By mixing compounds from garlic, citrus and other additives into a pellet that’s mixed with a cow’s regular diet, the start-up has surprised scientists by significantly and consistently cutting the toxic output of animals.... []  

2020-04-23. Oktoberfest’s Methane Rise Is the Wurst. By Katherine Kornei, Eos/AGU. Excerpt: Incomplete combustion and biogenic emissions—exhalations and flatulence—make Oktoberfest a significant, albeit temporary, source of the potent greenhouse gas.... [

2020-02-11. Instead of releasing this greenhouse gas, beer brewers are selling it to pot growers. By Jennifer Oldham, The Washington Post. Excerpt: DENVER — The state of Colorado and three small businesses are trying a novel approach to reduce carbon emissions that sounds like something out of the fever dreams of Willie Nelson: using carbon dioxide produced from beer brewing to help marijuana plants grow. Denver Beer Co., Colorado’s seventh-largest craft brewery by volume, is testing technology developed by Austin-based Earthly Labs to capture carbon dioxide emitted naturally during fermentation that was previously vented into the air. The refrigerator-sized device purifies the greenhouse gas and chills it into a liquid. Stored in 750-pound tanks, the recovered CO2 is transported about nine miles to the Clinic, where growers vaporize the liquid and pump it into rooms full of pot plants to speed photosynthesis.... [

2019-12-12. It’s a Vast, Invisible Climate Menace. We Made It Visible. By Jonah M. Kessel, a New York Times visual journalist, and Hiroko Tabuchi, a Times climate reporter

2019-07-19. Major U.S. cities are leaking methane at twice the rate previously believed. By Sid Perkins, Science Magazine.

2019-05-21. Farm Ponds Sequester Greenhouse Gases. By Ty Burke, Eos/AGU.

2019-05-16. The Global Helium Shortage Is Real, but Don’t Blame Party Balloons. By Heather Murphy, The New York Times.

2019-05-14. In Pennsylvania, Methane Emissions Higher Than EPA Estimates. By Aaron Sidder, Eos/AGU.

2019-05-01. Gas That Makes a Mountain Breathe Fire Is Turning Up Around the World. By JoAnna Klein, The New York Times.

2019-01-29. China’s Coal Plants Haven’t Cut Methane Emissions as Required, Study Finds. By Somini Sengupta, The New York Times. 

2018-09-27. Methane isn’t just cow farts; it’s also cow burps (and other weird facts you didn’t know about this potent greenhouse gas). By Kate Torgovnick May, Excerpt: Methane, which is created when four hydrogen atoms bond to one atom of carbon, is ...the primary component of natural gas, which generates roughly 22 percent of the world’s electricity (after coal). But methane also has a heavy — and damaging — impact on the planet. “Methane pollution causes one quarter of the global warming that we’re experiencing right now,” says Fred Krupp of the Environmental Defense Fund in his TED talk (Let’s launch a satellite to track a deadly greenhouse gas). Carbon dioxide may be the most prevalent greenhouse gas (accounting for 81 percent of emissions), but methane is much more potent. Over a 20-year period, it traps 84 times more heat. So where does the methane in the atmosphere come from? And how can we control it? Let’s get this out of the way: when some people hear the word “methane,” they immediately think about cow farts. ...But in reality, cow burps are much more problematic: 90 to 95 percent of the methane released by cows comes out of their mouths, while 5 to 10 percent is released in the form of manure and flatulence. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock — including cows, pigs, sheep and other animals — are responsible for about 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Cows are the primary offenders.... But ...Most methane emissions come, directly or indirectly, from humans ...livestock and farming, decay in landfills, leakage from the oil and gas industry. Since 1750, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has doubled because of human activity. The oil and gas industry is the top contributor, creating one-third of all methane emissions. As companies extract and transport oil and natural gas, methane leaks from their pumps, pipelines and wells at a rapid rate. In June 2018, the journal Science published a paper by EDF and other researchers that showed US oil and gas operations are leaking 60 percent more of the harmful gas than government estimates had predicted.... [

2018-08-06. Audio Reveals Sizes of Methane Bubbles Rising from the Seafloor. By Katherine Kornei, Eos/AGU.

2018-06-21. Natural gas could warm the planet as much as coal in the short term. By Warren Cornwall, Science Magazine.

2018-04-11. EDF Announces Satellite Mission to Locate and Measure Methane Emissions. By Environmental Defense Fund. 

2018-03-08. As countries crank up the AC, emissions of potent greenhouse gases are likely to skyrocket. By April Reese, Science. 

2017-04-06. High Arctic Emissions of a Strong Greenhouse Gas. By Sarah Stanley, Earth & Space News, AGU, Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

2016-10-17. Map Reveals Hot Spots for Arctic Greenhouse Gas Emissions. By JoAnna Wendel, Earth & Space news, EoS, AGU.

2016-03-22. U.S. Methane Emissions on the Rise. By Shannon Kelleher, EoS Earth and Space Science News (AGU).

2014-10-10. Satellite sees hot spot of methane in US Southwest.  Excerpt: A surprising hot spot of the potent global-warming gas methane hovers over part of the southwestern U.S., according to satellite data. ...The higher level of methane is not a local safety or a health issue for residents, but factors in overall global warming. It is likely leakage from pumping methane out of coal mines. ...Within that hot spot, a European satellite found atmospheric methane concentrations equivalent to emissions of about 1.3 million pounds a year.  ...The amount of methane in the Four Corners — an area covering about 2,500 square miles — would trap more heat in the atmosphere than all the carbon dioxide produced yearly in Sweden. That's because methane is 86 times more potent for trapping heat in the short-term than carbon dioxide.... By Seth Borenstein, Associated Press Science Writer. See also NASA RELEASE 14-280 -

2014-07. Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. For GSS Climate Change chapter 3. Excerpt of Abstract: The production of animal-based foods is associated with higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than plant-based foods. The objective of this study was to estimate the difference in dietary GHG emissions between self-selected meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK. ...The diets of 2,041 vegans, 15,751 vegetarians, 8,123 fish-eaters and 29,589 meat-eaters aged 20–79 were assessed using a validated food frequency questionnaire. ...GHG emissions in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per day (kgCO2e/day) were 7.19 (7.16, 7.22) for high meat-eaters ( > = 100 g/d), 5.63 (5.61, 5.65) for medium meat-eaters (50-99 g/d), 4.67 (4.65, 4.70) for low meat-eaters ( < 50 g/d), 3.91 (3.88, 3.94) for fish-eaters, 3.81 (3.79, 3.83) for vegetarians and 2.89 (2.83, 2.94) for vegans. In conclusion, dietary GHG emissions in self-selected meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans. It is likely that reductions in meat consumption would lead to reductions in dietary GHG emissions. By Peter Scarborough, et al.

2013-12-09. The Montreal Protocol, a Little Treaty That Could. Excerpt:  Here is a remarkable fact about global warming: It might be twice as bad right now were it not for a treaty negotiated by a conservative American president, for an entirely different purpose, based on motives no one has ever quite understood. That treaty is known, in shorthand, as the Montreal Protocol. Its formal purpose is to save the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, which protects the planet and its people from debilitating levels of cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation. The negotiations on behalf of the United States, in the 1980s, were carried out by the Reagan administration. ...The Montreal Protocol is widely seen as the most successful global environmental treaty. ...the treaty may be even more important in limiting global warming than we thought.... Justin Gillis, The New York Times.

2013-11-25. Emissions of Methane in U.S. Exceed Estimates, Study Finds. For GSS Climate Change chapter 3. Excerpt: Emissions of the greenhouse gas methane due to human activity were roughly 1.5 times greater in the United States in the middle of the last decade than prevailing estimates, according to a new analysis by 15 climate scientists published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ...methane discharges in Texas and Oklahoma, where oil and gas production was concentrated at the time, were 2.7 times greater than conventional estimates. Emissions from oil and gas activity alone could be five times greater than the prevailing estimate.... Methane made up only about 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, the E.P.A. said; carbon dioxide is easily the most prevalent gas. But methane is much more potent. Even though it rapidly breaks down in the atmosphere, its contribution to global warming is 21 times greater than carbon dioxide’s over a 100-year period.... Michael Wines, The New York Times.

2012 Draft U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report - EPA's Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP) collects annual greenhouse gas (GHG) data from facilities that directly emit large amounts of GHGs and from suppliers of certain fossil fuels and industrial gases. Data collection under the GHGRP began in 2010 for 9 industry groups, including 29 source categories, plus suppliers. Enviromental Protection Agency greenhouse gas emissions page:

2012-04-20. Food for thought on greenhouse gas emissions | by Rachel Berkowitz, Physics Today.  Excerpt: …Reducing humans’ meat consumption by at least 50% will be necessary to stabilize discharge of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, by 2050. …In a world dependent on nitrogen for food production—it has been estimated that more than half Earth’s human population is fed as a result of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use—agriculture is responsible for more than 80% of anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions…. The third highest greenhouse gas contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide and methane, N2O is the most potent of the three gases because it's a better absorber of IR radiation. …But it's going to be tricky to reduce N2O emissions, as food production processes have been accelerating to feed Earth’s growing human population, which is currently at 7 billion. The nitrogen-use efficiency of crops is far from perfect, and efficiency is further reduced when crops are used as animal feed. In its fifth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented several scenarios … that represent possible ways to reduce major greenhouse gas emissions. …The most aggressive involves stabilizing N2O concentrations by 2050 via a combination of reducing humans’ meat consumption, improving agricultural efficiency, and reducing emissions from industry. …The study, however, lends new value to Albert Einstein’s observation that "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."

2011 September 7. Detailed global portrait of greenhouse gases emerges from pole-to-pole flights. UCAR News.  Excerpt: A three-year series of research flights from the Arctic to the Antarctic has successfully produced an unprecedented portrait of greenhouse gases and particles in the atmosphere…
The far-reaching field project, known as HIPPO, is enabling researchers to generate the first detailed thee-dimensional mapping of the global distribution of gases and particles that affect Earth’s climate…
“Tracking carbon dioxide and other gases with only surface measurements has been like snorkeling with a really foggy mask,” says Britton Stephens, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and one of the project's principal investigators. “Finally, HIPPO is giving us a clear view of what’s really out there.”
“With HIPPO, we now have views of whole slices of the atmosphere,” says Steven Wofsy, HIPPO principal investigator and atmospheric and environmental professor at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences…

2010 March 4. Study Says Undersea Release of Methane Is Under Way. By Cornelia Dean, NY Times. Excerpt: Climate scientists have long warned that global warming could unlock vast stores of the greenhouse gas methane that are frozen into the Arctic permafrost, setting off potentially significant increases in global warming.
Now researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and elsewhere say this change is under way in a little-studied area under the sea, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, west of the Bering Strait.
Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the university and a leader of the study, said it was too soon to say whether the findings suggest that a dangerous release of methane looms. In a telephone news conference, she said researchers were only beginning to track the movement of this methane into the atmosphere as the undersea permafrost that traps it degrades.
But climate experts familiar with the new research reported in Friday’s issue of the journal Science that even though it does not suggest imminent climate catastrophe, it is important because of methane’s role as a greenhouse gas. Although carbon dioxide is far more abundant and persistent in the atmosphere, ton for ton atmospheric methane traps at least 25 times as much heat....

2009 Nov-Dec. Livestock and Climate Change. By Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, World Watch Institute, Vision for a Sustainable World. Excerpt: Whenever the causes of climate change are discussed, fossil fuels top the list. Oil, natural gas, and especially coal are indeed major sources of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). But we believe that the life cycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated as a source of GHGs, ...
... When uncounted tons are added to the global inventory of atmospheric GHGs, that inventory rises from 41,755 million tons to 63,803 million tons. The FAO [United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization] excludes livestock respiration from its estimate, per the following argument: Respiration by livestock is not a net source of CO2 ….
Emissions from livestock respiration are part of a rapidly cycling biological system, where the plant matter consumed was itself created through the conversion of atmospheric CO2 into organic compounds. ... our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2 per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.
...Action to replace livestock products not only can achieve quick reductions in atmospheric GHGs, but can also reverse the ongoing world food and water crises....

2009 October 14. Curbing Emissions by Sealing Gas Leaks. By ANDREW C. REVKIN and CLIFFORD KRAUSS, The NY Times. Excerpt: To the naked eye, there was nothing to be seen at a natural gas well in eastern Texas but beige pipes and tanks baking in the sun.
But in the viewfinder of Terry Gosney’s infrared camera, three black plumes of gas gushed through leaks that were otherwise invisible.
“Holy smoke, it’s blowing like mad,” said Mr. Gosney, an environmental field coordinator for EnCana, the Canadian gas producer that operates the year-old well near Franklin, Tex. “It does look nasty.”
Within a few days the leaks had been sealed by workers.
Efforts like EnCana’s save energy and money. Yet they are also a cheap, effective way of blunting climate change that could potentially be replicated thousands of times over, from Wyoming to Siberia, energy experts say. Natural gas consists almost entirely of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas that scientists say accounts for as much as a third of the human contribution to global warming....

2009 August 17. As Arctic Ocean warms, megatonnes of methane bubble up. By Michael Marshall, New Scientist. Excerpt: It's been predicted for years, and now it's happening. Deep in the Arctic Ocean, water warmed by climate change is forcing the release of methane from beneath the sea floor.
Over 250 plumes of gas have been discovered bubbling up from the sea floor to the west of the Svalbard archipelago, which lies north of Norway. The bubbles are mostly methane, which is a greenhouse gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide.
The methane is probably coming from reserves of methane hydrate beneath the sea bed. These hydrates, also known as clathrates, are water ice with methane molecules embedded in them....
The methane being released from hydrate in the 600-square-kilometre area studied probably adds up to 27 kilotonnes a year, which suggests that the entire hydrate deposit around Svalbard could be releasing 20 megatonnes a year.
If methane began escaping at similar rates throughout the Arctic, it would dramatically increase methane levels in the atmosphere.
Globally, it's thought that around 500 to 600 megatonnes of methane are released into the atmosphere each year....

2009 April 15. Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight. By Elisabeth Rosenthal, The NY Times. Excerpt: KOHLUA, India — “It’s hard to believe that this is what’s melting the glaciers,” said Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, as he weaved through a warren of mud brick huts, each containing a mud cookstove pouring soot into the atmosphere.
...In Kohlua, in central India, with no cars and little electricity, emissions of carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, are near zero. But soot — also known as black carbon — from tens of thousands of villages like this one in developing countries is emerging as a major and previously unappreciated source of global climate change.
While carbon dioxide may be the No. 1 contributor to rising global temperatures, scientists say, black carbon has emerged as an important No. 2, with recent studies estimating that it is responsible for 18 percent of the planet’s warming, compared with 40 percent for carbon dioxide. Decreasing black carbon emissions would be a relatively cheap way to significantly rein in global warming — especially in the short term, climate experts say....
...decreasing soot could have a rapid effect. Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for years, soot stays there for a few weeks. Converting to low-soot cookstoves would remove the warming effects of black carbon quickly, while shutting a coal plant takes years to substantially reduce global CO2 concentrations....

2008 October 29. NASA Measurements Show Greenhouse Gas Methane on the Rise Again. NASA RELEASE : 08-276. Excerpt: WASHINGTON -- The amount of methane in Earth's atmosphere shot up in 2007, bringing to an end approximately a decade in which atmospheric levels of the potent greenhouse gas were essentially stable....
Methane levels in the atmosphere have more than doubled since pre-industrial times, accounting for around one-fifth of the human contribution to greenhouse gas-driven global warming. Until recently, the leveling off of methane levels had suggested that the rate of its emission from Earth's surface was being approximately balanced by the rate of its destruction in the atmosphere.
However, the balance has been upset since early 2007, according to research published this week in the American Geophysical Union's "Geophysical Research Letters." The paper's lead authors, Matthew Rigby and Ronald Prinn of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, say this imbalance has resulted in several million metric tons of additional methane in the atmosphere. 
...It is too early to tell whether this increase represents a return to sustained methane growth, or the beginning of a relatively short-lived anomaly, according to Rigby and Prinn. Given that methane is about 25 times stronger as a greenhouse gas per metric ton of emissions than carbon dioxide, the situation will require careful monitoring in the near future to better understand methane's impact on future climate change....

2008 October 24. The Most Potent Unknown Greenhouse Gas Revealed. Environment News Service. Excerpt: A gas used in manufacture of flat panel televisions, computer displays, microcircuits, and thin-film solar panels is 17,000 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and it is far more prevalent in the atmosphere than previously estimated.
The powerful greenhouse gas nitrogen trifluoride, NF3, is at least four times more widespread than scientists had believed, according to new research by a team at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.
Using new analytical techniques, a team led by Scripps geochemistry professor Ray Weiss made the first atmospheric measurements of nitrogen trifluoride, NF3.
...The amount of the gas in the atmosphere...had been estimated at less than 1,200 metric tons in 2006. The new research shows the actual amount was 4,200 metric tons.
In 2008, about 5,400 metric tons of the gas was in the atmosphere, a quantity that is increasing at about 11 percent per year.
...Emissions of NF3 were thought to be so low that the gas was not considered to be a significant potential contributor to global warming.
..."From a climate perspective, there is a need to add NF3 to the suite of greenhouse gases whose production is inventoried and whose emissions are regulated under the Kyoto Protocol, thus providing meaningful incentives for its wise use," said Weiss....
See Also NASA RELEASE : 08-268. Potent Greenhouse Gas More Common in Atmosphere Than Estimated

2008 September 1. Thawing permafrost likely to boost global warming. Eureka Alert. Excerpt: The thawing of permafrost in northern latitudes, which greatly increases microbial decomposition of carbon compounds in soil, will dominate other effects of warming in the region and could become a major force promoting the release of carbon dioxide and thus further warming, according to a new assessment in the September 2008 issue of BioScience. The study, by Edward A. G. Schuur of the University of Florida and an international team of coauthors, more than doubles previous estimates of the amount of carbon stored in the permafrost: the new figure is equivalent to twice the total amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide....
Schuur and his colleagues...judge that over millennia, soil processes have buried and frozen over a trillion metric tons of organic compounds in the world's vast permafrost regions. The relatively rapid warming now under way is bringing the organic material back into the ecosystem, in part by turning over soil....
Schuur and his colleagues acknowledge many difficulties in estimating carbon dioxide emissions from permafrost regions.... Data are limited, and emissions are influenced by the amount of surface water, topography, wildfires, snow cover, and other factors. Thawing, although believed to be critical, is hard to model accurately.
Some warming-related trends in Arctic regions, such as the encroachment of trees into tundra, may cause absorption of carbon dioxide and thus partly counter the effects of thawing permafrost. But Schuur and colleagues' new assessment indicates that thawing is likely to dominate known countervailing trends....

2008 July 3. Plasma, LCDs blamed for accelerating global warming. ABC News. Excerpt: A gas used in the making of flat screen televisions, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), is being blamed for damaging the atmosphere and accelerating global warming.
Almost half of the televisions sold around the globe so far this year have been plasma or LCD TVs. ...The gas, widely used in the manufacture of flat screen TVs, is estimated to be 17,000 times as powerful as carbon dioxide.
Ironically, NF3 is not covered by the Kyoto protocol as it was only produced in tiny amounts when the treaty was signed in 1997.
Levels of this gas in the atmosphere have not been measured, but scientists say it is a concern and are calling for it to be included in any future emissions cutting agreement.
Professor Michael Prather from the University of California has highlighted the issue in an article for the magazine New Scientist.
...He estimates 4,000 tons of NF3 will be produced in 2008 and that number is likely to double next year.
...Dr Paul Fraser is the chief research scientist at the CSIRO's marine and atmospheric research centre, and an IPCC author.
He says without measuring the quantity of NF3 in the atmosphere it is unclear what impact it will have on the climate.
"We haven't observed it in the atmosphere. It's probably there in very low concentrations," he said.
"The key to whether it's a problem or not is how much is released to the atmosphere."

16 February 2007. PHYTOPLANKTON AID IN GREENHOUSE GAS CONTROL - This broadcast of Earth & Sky radio show featured NASA Earth science. The show is also available to download as an audio Podcast.

February 2006. From Carbon Cycles to Climate Models. By David Pescovitz. ScienceMatters@Berkeley Volume 3, Issue 18. ... UC Berkeley professor Inez Fung constructs incredibly complex computer simulations of the climate. ..."There's a rogues gallery of these atmospheric species, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, that affect the energy cycle and climate," says Fung, co-director of the new Berkeley Institute of the Environment and former director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center. "I'm hitting them one-by-one to understand what determines their concentration in the atmosphere, why that's changing, and how." ...Most famously, Fung and her colleagues modeled the carbon cycle, how carbon dioxide moves in and out of the atmosphere. Previous calculations included the fact that humans burning fossil fuel at a certain rate will boost carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. [see graphic depiction of the Earth's carbon cycle, highlighting various sources and sinks for carbon.] ...Fung studies the whole shebang. ...trees are much more involved in carbon uptake and atmospheric cooling than previously believed. A study in the Amazonian forest showed that the roots shift water deep in the ground in such a way that they "pull more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they conduct more photosynthesis" even during the dry season, Dawson says. The trouble is that there's a limit to how much carbon dioxide the world's plants can handle. Right now, plants and oceans absorb about half of the CO2 that's generated from the burning of fossil fuels. Last year, Fung's climate model indicated that in the next fifty years or so, the "breathing biosphere" may be overwhelmed. ...And after plants die, their decomposition by microbes in the soil also play a part in the carbon cycle. "If you don't look at decomposition, it's like looking at your income without considering your expenses," Fung says. "You have to think about the whole life cycle across the entire biosphere." Simultaneously, the oceans' capabilities as a CO2 sink are hampered....

18 March 2005. ENVISAT ENABLES FIRST GLOBAL CHECK OF REGIONAL METHANE EMISSIONS. Envisat has performed the first space-based measurements of the global distribution of near-surface methane, one of the most important greenhouse gases. As reported in Thursday's issue of Science Express, the results show larger than expected emissions across tropical land regions.

December 2004. Scientists Hunt for Acid Rain and Methane in Wetlands. FEATURE: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Depending on how you look at it, something good can always come out of something bad. That's actually the case in a new study on greenhouse gases by NASA scientists and others. The researchers discovered that acid rain inhibits a swampland bacteria from producing methane, a greenhouse gas. Methane, a gas that contributes to warming our planet, is produced by natural processes and human activities. Increased amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are warming the Earth beyond its average temperature. Carbon, heat and moisture are known to influence methane production by members of the Archaea, single-celled creatures. Under normal conditions, these microbes consume organic carbon in the soil for energy and release methane as a byproduct. Wetlands provide an ideal environment for these microbes. When acid rain drops sulfate onto wetlands, another type of bacteria, ones that reduce sulfate are able to outcompete the Archea, limiting the total production of methane. Wetlands may produce as much as 320 million tons of methane annually but only about half of that, or 160 million tons, is ultimately released to the atmosphere. The other 160 million tons never makes it to the atmosphere because it is destroyed via oxidation as it moves from wet soils below the water table through dry soil to the surface. Despite substantial oxidation, natural wetlands remain the single largest source of methane emission accounting for about one third of the global annual total methane.

10 February 2004. Tango in the Atmosphere: Ozone and Climate Change. NASA Earth Observatory feature article. Ozone's impact on climate consists primarily of changes in temperature. The more ozone in a given parcel of air, the more heat it retains. Ozone generates heat in the stratosphere, both by absorbing the sun's ultraviolet radiation and by absorbing upwelling infrared radiation from the lower atmosphere (troposphere). Consequently, decreased ozone in the stratosphere results in lower temperatures.

April 2002. NSTA news stories on global warming. Also, NSTA SciLinks on Global Warming/Climate Change

22 April 2002. CLOUDS IN THE GREENHOUSE. As vexing as they are beautiful, clouds play an important role in Earth's planetary greenhouse. This recent story on Science@NASA provides information on the role clouds play in our climate system, how NASA researchers are studying clouds, and links to related resources.

2001. GreenFacts -- Scientific Facts on Climate Change and Global Warming. Main Source: IPCC