Feb 19, 2020 - Science

Study: Methane gas emissions could be greater than previously known

In this image, a well pumps oil

Flaring natural gas burns by jack pumps at an oil well near Buford, North Dakota. Photo: William Campbell/Corbis via Getty Images

Greenhouse gas emissions from methane, which largely originates from natural gas production and agriculture, have been underestimated by 25% to 40% compared to recent gauges, per a new study in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

Why it matters: Methane gas is more potent than CO2 at trapping heat on a pound-for-pound basis in the short-term, which makes it an important factor to weigh as countries tackle global warming.

What they found: Ancient samples of air from Greenland's ice sheets contained "very little of the oldest type of methane — multimillion-year-old fossil methane gas," the Washington Post reports. This suggests that the Earth's current methane-addled atmosphere is caused by humans exploiting fossil fuels.

What they're saying: Harvard atmospheric scientist and methane expert Daniel Jacob told the Post that the study represented an “important result, because the current estimates for the methane geological source were widely considered too high by atmospheric modelers such as myself.”

  • Yes, but: Jacob told the Post that he disagreed with the study's inference that smaller fossil methane sources means that humans should increase emissions from another source.

Go deeper: New methane capture method could reduce global warming by one-sixth

Go deeper