This method proposed by Stanford researcher is essential to reaching climate goals – Methane, and how to deal with it

A group of researchers lead by Robert Jackson from Stanford University say pulling methane out of the atmosphere is crucial if we want to be able to reach climate targets established by the Paris agreement in 2015. They proposed various methods for removing this greenhouse gas from the air, and they emphasize the importance of quick measures. Methane traps 30 to 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, and it is the second most abundant greenhouse gas. The researchers talked about the importance of active removal of methane from the atmosphere at the 2021 United Nations climate summit. Together with the climate advocacy group Methane Action, they also emphasized that reducing emissions is the primary goal, but these so-called negative emission technologies may be needed in order to limit the effects of climate change.

Conducting thorough research the group made some significant discoveries. According to their findings, despite the lower concentration of methane in the atmosphere, it contributes almost as much to global warming as carbon dioxide. Considering that methane is also produced naturally, in a rather unpredictable fashion, it is difficult to foresee future methane concentrations. This further increases the relevancy of negative emission technologies. When investigating the effects of methane, we also need to consider the vicious cycle many greenhouse gases result in. Some may not know, but huge amounts of methane is stored and produced in the arctic permafrost – a permanently frozen layer of soil. Due to global warming, some of these areas are thawing, releasing the methane they stored for so long. It is easy to see how this can create a positive feedback loop. Researchers must account for such factors when analysing climate change and greenhouse gases. This is one of the reasons Prof. Jackson’s group recommends removing methane from the atmosphere to avoid a global climate catastrophe.

Digging into some numbers for the determined reader, the researchers found that current atmospheric methane levels are 2.5 times higher than in preindustrial times. Not only that, but the concentration of methane is increasing twice as fast as that of carbon dioxide. The researchers say this is a clear indicator that climate efforts must be more focused on reducing methane emissions, and we need to act fast. On a brighter note, methane is naturally oxidised – essentially being neutralised – within 10 years. According to the researchers the removal of methane from the atmosphere is quite possible, and is beneficial even on a relatively low scale. While there are certain technical limitations, there is an air of optimism (no pun intended) thanks to the overall feasibility of methane removal.

The group reached their conclusions from the analyses and careful assessment of the energy requirements, and other aspects of a variety of active methane removal methods. This allowed them to form a clear picture of the technological requirements of negative emission technologies, and report the urgency of methane removal. The groups advises for further research in negative methane emission, emphasizing the role of methane in global warming.



Research paper:

Jackson, R. B., Abernethy, S., Canadell, J. G., Cargnello, M., Davis, S. J., Féron, S., Fuss, S., Heyer, A. J., Hong, C., Jones, C. D., Damon Matthews, H., O’Connor, F. M., Pisciotta, M., Rhoda, H. M., de Richter, R., Solomon, E. I., Wilcox, J. L., & Zickfeld, K. (2021). Atmospheric methane removal: A research agenda. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 379(2210), 20200454.


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