Friday, October 2, 2009

Unusual arctic warmth, tropical wetness, likely cause of methane increase

Unusually high temperatures in the Arctic and heavy rains in the tropics likely drove a global increase in atmospheric methane in 2007 and 2008 after a decade of near-zero growth, according to a new study. Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, albeit a distant second.

NOAA scientists and their colleagues analyzed measurements from 1983 to 2008 from air samples collected weekly at 46 surface locations around the world. Their findings will appear in the September 28 print edition of the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters and are available online now.

“At least three factors likely contributed to the methane increase,” said Ed Dlugokencky, a methane expert at NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. “It was very warm in the Arctic, there was some tropical forest burning, and there was increased rain in Indonesia and the Amazon.”

In the tropics, the scientists note, the increased rainfall resulted in longer periods of rainfall and larger wetland areas, allowing microbes to produce more methane. Starting in mid-2007, scientists noticed La Niña conditions beginning, waning and then intensifying in early 2008. This kind of climate condition typically brings wetter-than-normal conditions in some tropical regions and cooler sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It can persist for as long as two years. In the United States, La Niña often signals drier-than-normal conditions in the Southwest and Central Plains regions, and wetter fall and winter seasons in the Pacific Northwest.

The rest of the NOAA article is here.

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