3.4 Dealing with climate: Methane gas (CH4)

Author: Brooke McGee

ABSTRACT: Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb and trap heat in the atmosphere. The main greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases.

Methane Cycle: Encyclopedia Britannica


Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.

Carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and oil), solid waste, trees, and other biological materials, as well as a result of certain chemical reactions. Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.

Up to now, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from industries have relied mainly on paper-based calculations of what’s pouring out of tailpipes and smokestacks, based on the amount of energy consumed by people and businesses. But as satellite technology improves, researchers are starting to stress test the data – and the early results show leaky oil and gas industry infrastructure is responsible for far more of the methane in the atmosphere than previously thought.

All of the GHG remain in the atmosphere for different amounts of time ranging from a few years to thousands of years. All of these gases remain in the atmosphere long enough to become well mixed, meaning that the amount that is measured in the atmosphere is roughly the same all over the world, regardless of the source of the emissions. The burning of fossil fuels and other activities, humans are adding more GHG’s into the atmosphere than are needed, throwing off the natural balance, resulting in an enhanced Greenhouse Effect.

Methane Metrics: Methane pollution – David Suzuki Foundation

“Methane can be produced through a series of chemical reactions as organic matter is decomposed at shallow depths in low-oxygen environments, such as swamps and bogs. As plants die and sink to the bottom of these watery environments, bacteria start to break them down” (Leman). Additionally, methane can leak from mud volcanoes, rice fields, and strangely, termites. Methane can also be found in underground fossil fuel deposits that have been subjected to high pressure and temperatures over millions and millions of years. As these fuels are harvested, mined, and released, so is methane. Methane is difficult to transport and easily leaks during the extraction of oil, coal, and natural gas- hence the regulations.

“Methane punches far above its weight as a climate-altering pollutant. Meaningful action on climate change is impossible without addressing the threat that methane poses.”

John Werring, Senior Science and Policy Advisor
(David Suzuki Foundation)


David Suzuku Foundation-One nature. https://davidsuzuki.org/project/methane-pollution/

Dlugokencky, E. Trends in atmospheric methane. Retrieved from: https://gml.noaa.gov/ccgg/trends_ch4/

Encyclopedia Britannica. Image: The Methane Cycle. https://www.britannica.com/science/methane#/media/1/378264/141533

Leman, J. (2020). What is methane, anyway? Retrieved from: https://www.popularmechanics.com/science/environment/a28858699/what-is-methane/#:~:text=There%20are%20two%20main%20ways%20that%20methane%20can,watery%20environments%2C%20bacteria%20starts%20to%20break%20them%20down.

UNECE.Methane Management: The Challenge. Retrieved from: https://unece.org/challenge

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2022). Overview of Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases U.S. Energy Information Administration. (2021).

Energy and the environment explained: Where greenhouse gases come from. Retrieved from: https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/energy-and-the-environment/where-greenhouse-gases-come-from.php#:~:text=In%20the%20United%20States%2C%20most,and%20petroleum%E2%80%94for%20energy%20use.

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