Scientists ‘fingerprint’ methane to track a climate change culprit

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Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas in the Earth’s atmosphere, and since 2007 emissions have been increasing rapidly and mysteriously. Warm the atmosphere and the planet.

To overcome this challenge, researchers led by the University of Maryland developed a new methane “fingerprinting” method. Published In the magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study analyzed the chemical composition of rare forms of methane known as isotopic variants. This new approach will help researchers identify the microbial sources of methane from wetlands, landfills and farmland as fossil fuel sources—a task difficult to achieve with current methods, which measure methane’s most common isotopes.

“Methane plays a significant role Climate changeBut there are many unknowns about the reasons for the recent increase. Methane in the atmosphere” said the study’s lead author, Mojhgan Hagnegahdar, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in UMD’s geology department.

“Our understanding of how to control and reduce methane emissions into the atmosphere will be critical to maintaining our standard of living and avoiding significant costs to society in the near future.”

The research team analyzed air samples collected from several locations on or near the UMD campus. Using custom-made production equipment, the researchers captured methane from covered wood and charcoal-burning grills, two wetlands, and compressed air samples. Natural gas. After isolating and purifying the methane, they used a high-resolution mass spectrometer to take a closer look at the chemical makeup of the gas.

Their analysis found that microbial sources of methane have a different signature than fossil fuel sources. The isotopic fingerprint of a particular methane plume can be used to identify the culprit as policymakers prioritize efforts to identify the source of this greenhouse gas and prevent it.

“Understanding the dynamics of atmospheric methane has important implications for how society can go about reducing this greenhouse gas,” Hagnegahdar said. “Should we focus mitigation efforts on fossil fuels such as natural gas emissions, or on microbial sources such as landfills, agriculture, and wetlands?”

Russell Dickerson, professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at UMD and co-author of this study, explained why it is so difficult to return methane to its source.

“Methane has many natural and man-made sources, so if landfills and wetlands are located near a natural gas distribution center or near a city with old supply infrastructure, it is difficult to determine which source is dominant.” Dickerson explained. “Isotopes can tell us where the methane came from.”

In addition to monitoring current emissions, the researchers believe their methods can be applied retrospectively, allowing them to study long-term changes in the global methane cycle.

As a next step, the team is working to find a decade-old. Air samples To determine if past methane emissions are accurate. Going forward, their method could also be used to determine whether efforts to remove or remove methane from the atmosphere have been successful.

Methane is 28 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. However, methane has a shorter lifetime – about 10 years – than the hundreds of years that carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere. This makes it a meaningful target Climate actionaccording to research colleague James Farquhar.

“Reducing Methane “It’s one of the few things we can do in our lives that will have some effect,” said Farquhar, emeritus professor and chair of UMD’s geology department. We live in a different world when it comes to tackling climate change.

Additional information:
Mojhgan A. Haghnegahdar et al, Tracing atmospheric methane sources using trace isotopes; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2305574120

QuoteScientists ‘fingerprint’ methane to track climate change culprit (2023, November 27) Retrieved November 27, 2023, from

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