Saturday, October 11, 2014

Satellite data shows surprising methane hotspot in US southwest

The Guardian (UK) via AP: A surprising hotspot of the potent global warming gas methane hovers over part of the southwestern US, according to satellite data and is likely to be leakage from pumping methane out of coal mines. The result hints that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies considerably underestimate leaks of methane, which is also called natural gas.

The higher level of methane is not a local safety or a health issue for residents, but is a factor in overall global warming. While methane isn’t the most plentiful heat-trapping gas, scientists worry about its increasing amounts and have had difficulties tracking emissions.

A satellite image shows the hotspot of atmospheric methane concentrations as a bright red blip over the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah in continental US. The image used data from 2003 to 2009.

Within that hotspot, a European satellite found atmospheric methane concentrations equivalent to emissions of about £1.3m a year. That’s about 80% more than the EPA figured. Other ground-based studies have calculated that EPA estimates were off by 50%. The methane concentration in the hotspot was more than triple the amount previously estimated by European scientists.

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 sh
ort-term than carbon dioxide.

...“It’s the largest signal we can see from the satellite,” said study lead author Eric Kort, a University of Michigan atmospheric scientist. “It’s hard to hide from space.” There could be some areas elsewhere in the country where more methane is emitted if it is dispersed by wind, Kort said. Kort said the methane likely comes from leaks as workers extract natural gas from coal beds, and not from hydraulic fracturing, called fracking, because the data were collected before fracking really caught on....

Image of hotspot from NASA

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