• Steeple Woods

NASA and cow burps

So, we all pretty much understand that carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is a reason for our climate changing. The extra CO2 gas in the air acts like a douvet around the earth trapping heat.


What's less well known is the role that methane (CH4) plays in warming the planet. The conversations about methane usually end up about cows and their natural "emissions".


The scientists at NASA, however, have taken the conversation about methane to a whole new level (literally - to space!)


NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs are using their satellites to track very large emitters of methane. So big in fact that the methane clouds are detectable from space.


A methane plume 2 miles (3 km) long that NASA detected in New Mexico. NASA/JPL-Caltech
A methane plume 2 miles (3 km) long that NASA detected in New Mexico. NASA/JPL-Caltech

This is a big problem now because methane is far more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere. If CO2 is a 3 tog summer douvet, methane is a 13.5 tog winter douvet with a couple of blankets and some coats on top.


NASA also highlights the problem of, in future, sudden large methane emissions from melting permafrost.


The good news is that nature takes about a decade to remove methane released into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide hangs around for centuries.


If we cut down on methane emissions nature will quickly rebalance the methane levels so helping to stabilise the earth's temperature.