Energy & Environment

2019 atmospheric methane increase greatest in five years: preliminary data


The average level of methane in the atmosphere increased last year by the highest amount in five years, according to preliminary data released Sunday. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) found that the average level of methane in the atmosphere increased by 11.54 parts per billion (ppb) in 2019 over the level of methane in the atmosphere in 2018. 

This is the largest increase since 2014, when the average level of atmospheric methane increased by 12.72 ppb. 

Drew Shindell, an earth science professor at Duke University, called the 2019 increase “alarmingly high.” 

“What we had been really hoping of course, was that emissions of all of the powerful greenhouse gases would be well on their way down by now and instead to see record highs in their growth rate is very alarming,” Shindell said in an interview with The Hill. 

Methane is a greenhouse gas whose sources include leaks from natural gas systems and raising livestock, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2017, it accounted for 10.2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Shindell said that because methane doesn’t remain in the atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide, bringing down its level should be one of the easier ways to combat climate change. 

“If you do something about methane, you see benefits in the first decade of action,” he said. 

He added that this can be done through the use of leak-capturing equipment in the fossil fuel industry and consuming fewer products which come from cattle like beef and dairy. 

NOAA’s data also showed that in December 2019, the last month for which data was available, the level of methane in the atmosphere was about 1,874.7 ppb. 

The data in NOAA’s report is preliminary, and the agency said that it is “likely to change significantly.” A final value is expected this fall. 

Tags greenhouse gases Methane

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