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Methane is one of the strongest greenhouse gases on earth. It is a natural part of the greenhouse effect and global warming. In fact, emissions of methane is the second largest contributer to climate change (after CO2).

What is methane?

Methane is a colourless and odorless greenhouse gas.  It has the chemical formula CH4 and was discovered in the end of the 18th century by the italian physicist Alessandro Volta. The concentration of this gas in the atmosphere has increased with about 150 % since year 1750. A fact that makes emissions of this gas resonsible for about 20 % of global emissions.

Global warming potential

To meassure greenhouse gases in the atmosphere it is common to use the so called “Global warming potential”, GWP. The GWP meassurement messures the amount of heat that is absorbed by a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, by comparing the gas to the potential of CO2.
Picture of melting ices

Emissions of methane

A large part of methane emissions come from leckages when extracting oil and gas. Cattle is another example that releases the gas, as well as another potent greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide (also known as laughing gas). The emissions of these gases, which both have very high GWPs, have put the spotlight on today’s agricultural sector. Particularly livestock farming has been questioned. This since both largescale and smallscale farming are huge sources of releasing potent greenhouse gases.
For example, methane is about 23 times as strong as CO2. Thereby, releasing the same amount of methane as CO2 contributes 23 times more to the greenhouse efect than releasing the same amount of CO2. However, it is also important to note that methane does not stay in the atmosphere for as long as CO2. Therefore, emissions of methane contribute more to the urgent and present amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, not the longterm ones.

More facts

Methane has also been called a “mining-gas” since the gas has also been released from mines. These kind of emissions contribute to a dangerous risk of explosions for workers in the mines, as well as for nature.  The gas is also known to be stored in small bubbles in the worlds glaciers and icecovered areas. In the midst of global warming and melting ices of today, methane is therefore released in a fast pace. This kind of development contributes to a so called positive “feedback loop”. Which means that the increased emissions of the gas contribute a warmer climate, which speads up the melting of icecovered areas, which releases even more of it.

 


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