Monday, October 27, 2008
Methane rise reminds us of climate change feedback loop
By Chris W http://www.gather.com/
The amount of methane in the sky of planet Earth increased by around 28 million tons from June 2006 to October 2007*. The total methane in the air is now around 5.6 billion tons. Scientists are concerned that we may be seeing the beginning of a feedback loop in the arctic in terms of methane release. Billions of tons of methane are believed trapped in the arctic land surface by permafrost, the layer of soil that remains permanently frozen, forming a barrier to lower layers. As the arctic permafrost warms, the concern is that the trapped methane will be released into the sky, where it will exercise a strong greenhouse effect (actually, methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, pound for pound). The total impact of methane on global warming is around one third that of carbon dioxide: while more powerful as a warming agent, there is also much less of it than there is of carbon dioxide. We know methane as a fuel, as in natural gas, and as a component in cow farts. Funny stuff, a great way to mock the threat posed by human caused climate change- until you realize that the enormous number of cattle on the face of Planet Earth are yet another example of human activities driving atmospheric processes. The cattle would not be there without us.
Scientists are also noting a steep increase in yet another greenhouse gas, Nitrogen Trifluoride. This chemical substance has increased 30 fold since 1978, entirely because of human activites. Nitrogen Trifluoride is used industrially as a cleaning agent during the manufacture of liquid crystal display TV sets and computer monitors, and ironically, in the production of thin-film solar panels. Depressing, isn't it, that thin film solar which has such potential to reduce our carbon emissions, bears with it the price of releasing a greenhouse gas of its own. Nitrogen Trifluoride, according to the scientists, is thousands of times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide is.
For perspective on this, ask yourself, smugly and complacently, "what's the worst thing that could happen?" Then search your memory from the year 2005, when you asked yourself that same question about the subprime mortgage problem.
Here is a bit more about NitroTri:
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