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Veteran Advisor

CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?


Study: US spewing 50% more methane than EPA says

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is spewing 50 percent more methane — a potent heat-trapping gas — than the federal government estimates, a new comprehensive scientific study says. Much of it is coming from just three states: Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

That means methane may be a bigger global warming issue than thought, scientists say. Methane is 21 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, the most abundant global warming gas, although it doesn't stay in the air as long.

Much of that extra methane, also called natural gas, seems to be coming from livestock, including manure, belches, and flatulence, as well as leaks from refining and drilling for oil and gas, the study says. It was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The study estimates that in 2008, the U.S. poured 49 million tons of methane into the air. That means U.S. methane emissions trapped about as much heat as all the carbon dioxide pollution coming from cars, trucks, and planes in the country in six months.

That's more than the 32 million tons estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration or the nearly 29 million tons reckoned by the European Commission.

"Something is very much off in the inventories," said study co-author Anna Michalak, an Earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. "The total U.S. impact on the world's energy budget is different than we thought, and it's worse."

EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said her agency hasn't had time to go through the study yet, but hopes it will help "refine our estimates going forward."

While the world has a good handle on how much carbon dioxide is pumped into the air, scientists have been more baffled by methane emissions. They have had to use computer models to estimate how much methane is going into that air.

This study, however, was based on nearly 13,000 measurements from airplane flights and tall towers, the most used in any such research.

The information was collected in 2008. Scientists have yet to analyze their data from 2012, and that will capture more of any impact of the natural gas boom from hydraulic fracturing, Michalik said. Studies recently have shown conflicting results about how much methane escapes during fracking and other forms of fossil fuel drilling.

Outside experts praised the study. Robert Howarth at Cornell University called "it very compelling and quite important. This is the most comprehensive study yet."

Michalak said because of the way they measured methane — just looking for it in the air as opposed to tracking it from a source — it is hard to say what is putting more methane into the air. But she said by looking at concentrations — especially within Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas — the scientists have a good idea: Cows, oil and gas.

Nearly one-quarter of the U.S. methane emissions came from those three states. Texas is by far and away the No. 1 state for refineries that turn oil into gasoline. Texas and Oklahoma have been big oil and gas drilling states and Kansas is a big cow state.

Cows seem to be spewing twice the methane that scientists previously thought, Michalak said.

While burps and flatulence are part of the methane emission from cattle, University of California Santa Barbara professor Ira Leifer said a bigger factor is manure.

"If you shovel it into an artificial lagoon you are creating the perfect production for methane, but it cuts down on the smell and your neighbors complain less," he said.

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15 Replies

Re: CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?

Cx--knew there had to be a reason we have been so hot the last few years! Who would have thought--cattle farting!
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Veteran Advisor

Re: CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?

I know, right....i could use a cow for a pet to blame sometimes, as wellSmiley Very Happy


.........come to think of it -- the times i've driven north through the panhandle, there has never been a doubt when the Lubbock stockyards are nearing.

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Honored Advisor

Re: CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?

Study Finds Surprising Arctic Methane Emission Source

A new airborne study with NASA contributions measured surprising levels of the potent greenhouse gas methane A new airborne study with NASA contributions measured surprising levels of the potent greenhouse gas methane coming from cracks in Arctic sea ice and areas of partial sea ice cover. This image was taken over the Arctic Ocean at a latitude of approximately 71 degrees North on April 15, 2010. Image credit: NASA/JPL

April 22, 2012

The fragile and rapidly changing Arctic region is home to large reservoirs of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. As Earth's climate warms, the methane, frozen in reservoirs stored in Arctic tundra soils or marine sediments, is vulnerable to being released into the atmosphere, where it can add to global warming. Now a multi-institutional study by Eric Kort of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has uncovered a surprising and potentially important new source of Arctic methane: the ocean itself.

Kort, a JPL postdoctoral scholar affiliated with the Keck Institute of Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, led the analysis while he was a student at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. The study was conducted as part of the HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) airborne campaign, which flew a specially instrumented National Science Foundation (NSF)/National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Gulfstream V aircraft over the Pacific Ocean from nearly pole to pole, collecting atmospheric measurements from Earth's surface to an altitude of 8.7 miles (14 kilometers). The campaign, primarily funded by NSF with additional funding from NCAR, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was designed to improve our understanding of where greenhouse gases are originating and being stored in the Earth system.

During five HIPPO flights over the Arctic from 2009 to 2010, Kort's team observed increased methane levels while flying at low altitudes over the remote Arctic Ocean, north of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The methane level was about one-half percent larger than normal background levels.

But where was the methane coming from? The team detected no carbon monoxide in the atmosphere that would point to possible contributions from human combustion activities. In addition, based on the time of year, location and nature of the emissions, it was extremely unlikely the methane was coming from high-latitude wetlands or geologic reservoirs.

By comparing locations of the enhanced methane levels with airborne measurements of carbon monoxide, water vapor and ozone, they pinpointed a source: the ocean surface, through cracks in Arctic sea ice and areas of partial sea ice cover. The cracks expose open Arctic seawater, allowing the ocean to interact with the air, and methane in the surface waters to escape into the atmosphere. The team detected no enhanced methane levels when flying over areas of solid ice.

Kort said previous studies by others had measured high concentrations of methane in Arctic surface waters, but before now no one had predicted that these enhanced levels of ocean methane would find their way to the overlying atmosphere.

So how is the methane being produced? The scientists aren't yet sure, but Kort hinted biological production from living things in Arctic surface waters may be a likely culprit. "It's possible that as large areas of sea ice melt and expose more ocean water, methane production may increase, leading to larger methane emissions," he said. He said future studies will be needed to understand the enhanced methane levels and associated emission processes and to measure their total contribution to overall Arctic methane levels.

"While the methane levels we detected weren't particularly large, the potential source region, the Arctic Ocean, is vast, so our finding could represent a noticeable new global source of methane," he added. "As Arctic sea ice cover continues to decline in a warming climate, this source of methane may well increase. It's important that we recognize the potential contribution from this source of methane to avoid falsely interpreting any changes observed in Arctic methane levels in the future."

The study, published April 22 in Nature Geoscience, included participation from JPL and Caltech; NSF, Arlington, Va.; NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colo.; the University of Colorado's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Boulder; Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.; Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey; Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota, Colombia; and Science and Technology Corporation, Boulder, Colo. JPL is a division of Caltech.


While we are at it lets talk about the methane released from termites... More than all the cattle on earth...

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Veteran Advisor

Re: CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?

funny Hobby, i was thinking about termites, too...relative to their mass, they release "an exponentially" greater ratio.


i've heard or read that volcanoes exist beneath the polar ice cap -- perhaps a good portion of that methane is released in this fashion?


maybe this whole CO2 warming the planet stuff really is a farce (relatively speaking)......since earth has been through many cycles, perhaps science is catching up to the, they just gotta figure a more precise, reliable method to measure/capture the quantities.

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Honored Advisor

Re: CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?

I went out this evening and lit a match............................... That theory is up in smoke.

Senior Contributor

Re: CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?

Those California researchers who blame Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas cattle for the increase in methane might mandate cattle feeders start using "Beano" in their rations. I can't say for sure, but my gut feeling is these researchers are full of hot air.

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Senior Contributor

Re: CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?

They publish stuff like this but then won't publish studies that say Roundup is toxic and poison!!  check out crop talk roundup and algae bloom part 2.    


I guess they figure the cattle feeder doesn't have the lobby like Monsatin does.  





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Senior Advisor

Re: CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?

Wait until there is another scare in the livestock sector, we'll find out that they're well represented as well.
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Senior Advisor

Re: CH4 & Cattle - Atmospheric issue?

 From the Cattle on Feed Report last September:

Released September 20, 2013, by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

United States Cattle on Feed Down 7 Percent

Cattle and calves on feed

for slaughter market in the United States for feedlots with capacity of 1,000 or more head totaled 9.9 million head on September 1, 2013. The inventory was 7 percent below September 1, 2012.


in feedlots during August totaled 1.79 million, 11 percent below 2012. Net placements were 1.73 million head. During August, placements of cattle and calves weighing less than 600 pounds were 405,000, 600-699 pounds were 338,000, 700-799 pounds were 430,000, and 800 pounds and greater were 615,000. Placements for the month of August are the lowest since the series began in 1996.


of fed cattle during August totaled 1.88 million, 4 percent below 2012. Monthly marketings for August are the second lowest since the series began in 1996.

Other disappearance

totaled 55,000 during August, 10 percent below 2012.


There are estimates that the North American bison herd in 1840 was 60,000,000 head.

Do bison emit methane?