Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Environmental Analysis
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

Methane Levels Studied Across States

Published: Thursday, May 16, 2013
Last Updated: Thursday, May 16, 2013
Bookmark and Share
A UC Santa Barbara scientist has found that methane emissions across large parts of the U.S. are higher than currently known.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, stronger than carbon dioxide on a 20-year timescale, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, though on a century timescale, carbon dioxide is far stronger. "This research suggests significant benefits to slowing climate change could result from reducing industrial methane emissions in parallel with efforts on carbon dioxide," said Ira Leifer, a researcher with UC Santa Barbara's Marine Science Institute.

Leifer was joined by two UC Santa Barbara undergraduate students on the road trip from Los Angeles to Florida, taking a primarily southern route through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and along the Gulf of Mexico. They used specialized instrumentation, a gas chromatograph, to measure methane. The device was mounted in the RV, with an air ram on the roof that collected air samples from in front of the vehicle.

"We tried to pass through urban areas during nighttime hours, to avoid being stuck in traffic and sampling mostly exhaust fumes," Leifer said. "Someone was always monitoring the chromatograph, and when we would see a strong signal, we would look to see what potential sources were in the area, and modify the survey to investigate and, if possible, circumnavigate potential sources."

The researchers meandered slowly through areas of fossil fuel activity, such as petroleum and natural gas production, refining, and distribution areas, and other areas of interest. The wide range of sources studied included a coal-loading terminal, a wildfire, and wetlands.

The team analyzed the data in conjunction with researchers at the University of Bremen, Germany, who analyzed inventories and satellite data from the Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography (SCIAMACHY) instrument onboard the European Space Agency's (ESA) ENVISAT satellite to confirm the finding of strong methane sources in regions of fossil fuel activity. The surface measurements found methane levels increased as the researchers moved toward Houston, and then decreased as they continued westward — the same trend observed in satellite data spanning the continent.

Previous methane studies have focused primarily on large-scale airborne data, which were challenging to separate from local sources, according to Leifer. In fact, clear identification of individual sources often could not be conducted, requiring computer models and other surface measurements.

The team compared maps of estimated methane emissions based on data from the International Energy Agency of the U.S. Department of Energy with satellite methane maps. They found that, in some cases, to explain observed higher methane concentrations required higher emissions than current emission maps present, particularly in large regions of fossil fuel industrial activity. In other cases, though, they could rule out that wetlands such as swamps may have been important. In such cases, separating wetland methane contributions from fossil fuel industrial contributions was not possible with their approach, Leifer said, "This is a topic we are investigating further through new research," he added.

"Methane is the strongest human greenhouse gas on a political or short timescale, and also has more bang for the buck in terms of addressing climate change," said Leifer. "This research supports other recent findings suggesting that fugitive emissions from fossil fuel industrial activity actually are the largest methane source. This clearly indicates a need for efforts to focus on reducing these methane emissions."

The researchers found the highest methane concentrations in areas with significant refinery activity, and in California in a Central Valley region of oil and gas production. Methane levels near refineries were not uniform, varying greatly from spot to spot and at different times. Nighttime concentrations were dramatically enhanced when the winds died down, forming a calm, shallow atmospheric layer near the surface, according to Leifer.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery was made in the Los Angeles area, where the study highlighted the importance of geologic methane emissions in the North Los Angeles Basin, centered on the La Brea Tar Pits. Rough estimation of emissions from the data suggests 10-20 percent of the methane emissions from Los Angeles could be natural geologic, influenced by the vast number of abandoned wells throughout the area.

This study was supported by a National Science Foundation Rapid Response Grant, by NASA and ESA, as well as JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency. Support also came from the Department of Energy, through the Gulf of Mexico Hydrates Research Consortium, the University of Mississippi, the University of Bremen, and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Space Administration.

According to Leifer, these results illustrate the need for satellite technology to further this type of research and also to provide guidance to decision makers. "We are working with methane data from the Japanese satellite, GOSAT, to continue these investigations," Leifer said. "We look forward to when new tools, like ESA's CarbonSat and NASA's HyspIRI spacecraft, are in orbit to help, as well as results from a new joint NASA/ESA airborne campaign, COMEX, with University of Bremen researchers to improve further methane satellite designs." COMEX will test different airborne remote sensing technologies for application to methane observations.

Further Information

Join For Free

Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 3,500+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 5,200+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Toxic Pollutants Found in Fish Across the World's Oceans
Scripps researchers' analysis shows highly variable pollutant concentrations in fish meat.
Friday, January 29, 2016
The Deep Carbon Cycle
Over billions of years, the total carbon content of the outer part of the Earth—in its upper mantle, crust, oceans and atmospheres—has gradually increased, scientists report.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
Microplastic Transfers Toxic Levels of Chemicals
With global production of plastic exceeding 280 metric tons every year, a fair amount of the stuff is bound to make its way to the natural environment.
Wednesday, December 04, 2013
Cattle Grazing, Clean Water Compatible on Public Lands
The study is the most comprehensive examination of water quality on National Forest public grazing lands to date.
Monday, July 01, 2013
California, Nations Must Act Now on Environment
Gov. Jerry Brown highlights areas to be addressed to avoid further harm to the Earth’s ecosystem.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Farmers and Environment Profit from New Website
University of California Cooperative Extension is rolling out a new website for farmers that will help them save money and protect the environment.
Friday, February 01, 2013
Scientists Look to Hawaii’s Bugs for Clues to Origins of Biodiversity
To Rosemary Gillespie, the Hawaiian Islands are a unique and ongoing series of evolutionary and ecological experiments. As each volcano rises above the waves, it is colonized by life from neighboring volcanoes and develops its own flora and fauna.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Researchers Play Key Role in Environmental Appraisal
Scientists at the University of California aid in the U.N. Environmental Programme.
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Scientific News
Achieving “Green” Desalination
Workshop explores ways to reduce or eliminate the carbon footprint of seawater desalination plants.
Adapt, Move or Die in Coral Reefs
As oceans warm, coral reef fish might prefer to move rather than adapt, research suggests.
Desalinated Sea Water Linked to Iodine Deficiency Disorders
Study suggests that desalination can dramatically increase the prevalence of inadequate iodine intake.
Reclaim from the Drain - The Importance of Water Reuse
This infographic explains the importance of reusing water to meet the world's increasing water demand.
Carbon Dioxide Levels Pass Troubling Milestone
Carbon dioxide levels are not set to fall below 400ppm for the first time since the Ice Age.
Pinpointing Sources of Water Contamination
Lab develops better method of environmental monitoring using the PhyloChip, finds surprising results in Russian River watershed.
Ice Cores Reveal Decline in Atmospheric Oxygen Over Last 800,000 Years
Researchers have compiled decades of data to produce a record of atmospheric oxygen concentrations.
3D-Printing in Science: Conference Co-Staged with LABVOLUTION
LABVOLUTION 2017 will have an added highlight of a simultaneous conference, "3D-Printing in Science".
Ocean Plastic Pollution Worse Than Expected
The Ocean Cleanup concludes first-ever reconnaissance flight over ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’.
Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria In America's Water System
Antibiotic resistant bacteria live inside drinking water distribution systems blamed for rising healthcare costs.
Scroll Up
Scroll Down

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
3,500+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
5,200+ scientific videos