This probably won’t happen for another billion years or so. But when the change comes, it’s going to happen fairly rapidly, the study from earlier this year suggests.
This shift will take the planet back to something like the state it was in before what’s known as the Great Oxidation Event (GOE) around 2.4 billion years ago.
What’s more, the researchers behind the new study say that atmospheric oxygen is unlikely to be a permanent feature of habitable worlds in general, which has implications for our efforts to detect signs of life further out in the Universe.
“The model projects that a deoxygenation of the atmosphere, with atmospheric O2 dropping sharply to levels reminiscent of the Archaean Earth, will most probably be triggered before the inception of moist greenhouse conditions in Earth’s climate system and before the extensive loss of surface water from the atmosphere,” wrote the researchers in their published paper.
At that point it’ll be the end of the road for human beings and most other life forms that rely on oxygen to get through the day, so let’s hope we figure out how to get off the planet at some point within the next billion years.
To reach their conclusions, the researchers ran detailed models of Earth’s biosphere, factoring in changes in the brightness of the Sun and the corresponding drop in carbon dioxide levels, as the gas gets broken down by increasing levels of heat. Less carbon dioxide means fewer photosynthesizing organisms such as plants, which would result in less oxygen.
Scientists have previously predicted that increased radiation from the Sun would wipe ocean waters off the face of our planet within about 2 billion years, but the new model – based on an average of just under 400,000 simulations – says the reduction in oxygen is going to kill off life first.
“The drop in oxygen is very, very extreme,” Earth scientist Chris Reinhard, from the Georgia Institute of Technology, told New Scientist earlier this year. “We’re talking around a million times less oxygen than there is today.”
What makes the study particularly relevant to the present day is our search for habitable planets outside of the Solar System.
Increasingly powerful telescopes are coming online, and scientists want to be able to know what they should be looking for in the reams of data these instruments are collecting.
It’s possible that we need to be hunting for other biosignatures besides oxygen to have the best chance of spotting life, the researchers say. Their study is part of the NASA NExSS (Nexus for Exoplanet System Science) project, which is investigating the habitability of planets other than our own.
According to the calculations run by Reinhard and environmental scientist Kazumi Ozaki, from Toho University in Japan, the oxygen-rich habitable history of Earth could end up lasting for just 20-30 percent of the planet’s lifespan as a whole – and microbial life will carry on existing long after we are gone.
“The atmosphere after the great deoxygenation is characterized by an elevated methane, low-levels of CO2, and no ozone layer,” said Ozaki. “The Earth system will probably be a world of anaerobic life forms.”
Earlier this month, President Biden urged other countries to join the U.S. and European Union in a commitment to slashing methane emissions. Two new Stanford-led studies could help pave the way by laying out a blueprint for coordinating research on methane removal technologies, and modeling how the approach could have an outsized effect on reducing future peak temperatures.
The analyses, published Sept. 27 in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, reveal that removing about three years-worth of human-caused emissions of the potent greenhouse gas would reduce global surface temperatures by approximately 0.21 degrees Celsius while reducing ozone levels enough to prevent roughly 50,000 premature deaths annually. The findings open the door to direct comparisons with carbon dioxide removal—an approach that has received significantly more research and investment—and could help shape national and international climate policy in the future.
“The time is ripe to invest in methane removal technologies,” said Rob Jackson, lead author on the new research agenda paper and senior author on the modeling study. Jackson is the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor of Energy and Environment in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.
The case for methane removal
The relative concentration of methane has grown more than twice as fast as that of carbon dioxide since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Removing methane from the atmosphere could reduce temperatures even faster than carbon dioxide removal alone because methane is 81 times more potent in terms of warming the climate over the first 20 years after its release, and about 27 times more potent over a century. Methane removal also improves air quality by decreasing the concentration of tropospheric ozone, exposure to which causes an estimated one million premature deaths annually worldwide due to respiratory illnesses.
Unlike carbon dioxide, the bulk of methane emissions are human-driven. Primary culprits include agricultural sources such as livestock, which emit methane in their breath and manure, and rice fields, which emit methane when flooded. Waste disposal and fossil fuel extraction also contribute substantial emissions. Natural sources of methane, including soil microbes in wetlands, account for the remaining 40 percent of global methane emissions. They further complicate the picture because some of them, such as thawing permafrost, are projected to increase as the planet warms.
While development of methane removal technologies will not be easy, the potential financial rewards are big. If market prices for carbon offsets rise to $100 or more per ton this century, as predicted by most relevant assessment models, each ton of methane removed from the atmosphere could then be worth more than $2,700.
Envisioning methane removal’s impacts
The modeling study uses a new model developed by the United Kingdom’s national weather service (known as the UK Met Office) to examine methane removal’s potential impacts while accounting for its shorter lifetime than carbon dioxide—a key factor because some of the methane removed would have disappeared anyway. The researchers created a set of scenarios by varying either the amount removed or the timing of removal to generalize their results over a wide range of realistic future emissions pathways.
Under a high emissions scenario, the analysis showed that a 40 percent reduction in global methane emissions by 2050 would lead to a temperature reduction of approximately 0.4 degrees Celsius by 2050. Under a low emissions scenario where temperature peaks during the 21st century, methane removal of the same magnitude could reduce the peak temperature by up to 1 degree Celsius.
“This new model allows us to better understand how methane removal alters warming on the global scale and air quality on the human scale,” said modeling study lead author and research agenda coauthor Sam Abernethy, a Ph.D. student in applied physics who works in Jackson’s lab.
From research to development
The path to achieving these climate and air quality improvements remains unclear. To bring it into focus, the research agenda paper compares and contrasts aspects of carbon dioxide and methane removal, describes a range of technologies for methane removal and outlines a framework for coordinating and accelerating its scale-up. The framework would help facilitate more accurate analysis of methane removal factors ranging from location-specific simulations to potential interactions with other climate change mitigation approaches.
Methane is challenging to capture from air because its concentration is so low, but burgeoning technologies—such as a class of crystalline materials called zeolites capable of soaking up the gas—hold the promise of a solution, according to the researchers. They argue for increased research into these technologies’ cost, efficiency, scaling and energy requirements, potential social barriers to deployment, co-benefits and possible negative by-products.
“Carbon dioxide removal has received billions of dollars of investments, with dozens of companies formed,” said Jackson. “We need similar commitments for methane removal.”
Meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement will require completely eliminating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants like this one in Adamsville, AlabamaANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images
The United Nations is warning that most countries have failed to uphold promises to make deep cuts to greenhouse gas pollution, in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
Under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate, countries are required to submit details of their plans to cut greenhouse emissions, called “Nationally Determined Contributions,” or NDCs, to the UN, which then calculates their total impact. The goal is to keep average global temperatures from rising beyond 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius), and ideally, no more than 2.7 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels.
“We need about a 45 to 50 percent decrease by 2030 to stay in line with what the science shows is necessary,” says Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Yet according to a new report issued by the UN on Friday, the NDCs submitted so far actually will allow global emissions to keep rising, increasing by 16 percent by 2030, compared to 2010 levels. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, meeting the more ambitious target of a 2.7 degree Fahrenheit temperature rise would require eliminating fossil fuels almost entirely by 2050.Article continues after sponsor messagehttps://adefc4e416fa383ab74c2463cb4f61b3.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“It’s a sobering, sobering summary,” Cleetus says. “We are so far off track from where we need to be.”
The U.S. has updated its climate plan to the UN, promising to cut greenhouse emissions in half by 2030, compared to 2005 levels.
Cleetus says the American pledge is a “significant contribution, but the reality is, we have to deliver, to help ensure that those emissions reductions actually happen.” Some of the policies and programs that the Biden Administration is counting on to reach that goal, such as a clean electricity standard, have not yet made it through Congress.
The UN report does include one small bit of hopeful news for advocates of climate action. More recent updates to countries’ NDCs tend to be more ambitious, perhaps signaling a growing willingness to abandon fossil fuels.
The UN is still waiting for updated plans from many countries. “There are some real laggard nations that we hope to hear from,” Cleetus says. They include China, which is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, as well as Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Brazil.
(Bloomberg) — Wisconsin is investigating a methane plume that was spotted by a satellite last week.
The state launched a probe after being contacted by Bloomberg News about a plume of methane detected in southwest Wisconsin by Kayrros SAS, which relied on a Sept. 10 satellite observation from the European Space Agency. The geoanalytics company estimated an emissions rate of 30 tons of methane an hour was needed to generate the release.
“The DNR was made aware of a potential methane plume in Southwest Wisconsin, and commenced investigations immediately,” spokeswoman Molly Meister said in an email Friday. “No reports of planned or unplanned work or releases by regulated sources in the area of the plume have been identified by DNR thus far.”
Halting intentional releases and accidental leaks of methane, the primary component of natural gas, could do more to slow climate change than almost any other single measure. The U.S. And the European Union this week unveiled a new initiative to pare global methane emissions by 30% before the end of the decade. Methane has more than 80 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide over the short term.
Like many other states, Wisconsin has no methane reporting requirements, and often such releases are never reported or are under-reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This year, Energy Transfer LP and Gazprom PJSC confirmed emissions in the U.S. and Russia after Bloomberg News reported plumes spotted from satellites.
PUBLISHED THU, AUG 26 20212:38 PM EDTUPDATED THU, AUG 26 20219:53 PM EDTEmma Newburger@EMMA_NEWBURGERSHAREShare Article via FacebookShare Article via TwitterShare Article via LinkedInShare Article via EmailKEY POINTS
A year after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses and grounded flights across the world, scientists say the resulting temporary drop in carbon emissions has had no lasting impact on climate change.
In fact, many metrics of the planet’s health declined significantly last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s new “State of the Climate in 2020” report.
2020 saw the highest concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere ever recorded, along with unprecedented global sea levels and average global temperatures.
The sun sets behind smoke from a distant wildfire as drought conditions worsen on July 12, 2021 near Glennville, California.David McNew | Getty Images
A year after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses, grounded flights and reduced vehicle traffic across the world, scientists say the resulting temporary drop in carbon emissions has had no lasting impact on climate change.
In fact, many metrics of the planet’s health declined significantly last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s new “State of the Climate in 2020” report.
The NOAA’s report, published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, confirms that despite a 6% to 7% drop in emissions from reduced activity amid the pandemic, the concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere still hit its highest level ever recorded last year.
The annual global average carbon dioxide concentration at Earth’s surface was 412.5 parts per million, roughly 2.5 ppm more than in 2019, the highest in at least the last 800,000 years, the NOAA report said.
Last year also saw a record spike in emissions of methane, which remains in the atmosphere for a shorter amount of time than carbon dioxide but delivers roughly 84 times as much warming in that period.
Hotter-than-average temperatures were widespread across the world last year. In Europe, 2020 was the hottest year on record, with all five of the warmest years occurring since 2014, the report said.
The average surface air temperature over land in the Arctic last year was the highest ever recorded in the last 121 years. The Arctic also experienced its highest wildfire year in 2020.
In central Siberia, where the majority of wildfires burned, record high spring temperatures triggered rapid snowmelt that contributed to the fourth-smallest snow cover extent in May for the continent and record smallest in June, according to the report.
The country had a total of 22 climate disasters that each cost more than $1 billion, shattering a previous annual record of 16 disasters the country saw in both 2011 and 2017, the report said. Wildfires in the Western U.S. also burned nearly 10.3 million acres from California to Colorado, the most the country has seen in over two decades.
Looking ahead, 2021 has already surpassed some of last year’s records.
New methane-tracking methods revealed that natural atmospheric levels were far lower than previously reported, and that fossil fuel-produced levels were much higher. Rudy and Peter Skitterians from PixabaySHARE
“The big take-home nugget for me is they said if you look at all the warming activity done by humans over the last century … carbon dioxide has contributed 0.75 degrees Celsius, while methane has contributed to 0.5 degrees Celsius,” says Bob Howarth, a professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University.
This new focus on methane calls for even more serious changes to the way the world is powered, fed, and cleaned up.
In the past, we’ve underestimated how much methane is emitted by human practices. According to a 2020 study by University of Rochester scientists, levels of “naturally released” methane reported in the atmosphere were 10 times too high. On the flip side, fossil fuel-based methane is actually about 25 to 40 percent higher than previously predicted. The researchers discovered this after doing a deep dive into different carbon-14 isotopes, many of which traced back to natural gas.
“The question is: Is this a bridge fuel, or is it going to be around for a very long time?” environmental economist Sheila Olmstead told National Geographic last year. “The market is telling us it’s probably going to be around for a long time.”
“I think what happens over the next decade is critical,” says Howarth. “We’re already seeing bigger fires, bigger droughts, losses in potential agricultural production, and more floods.”https://671a2837dd45b98bc0180f5bdf4d4cdb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Correction:This post originally stated methane is at least 25 percent more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane is actually 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.
Cutting carbon dioxide is not enough to solve the climate crisis – the world must act swiftly on another powerful greenhouse gas, methane, to halt the rise in global temperatures, experts have warned.
Leading climate scientists will give their starkest warning yet – that we are rushing to the brink of climate catastrophe – in a landmark report on Monday. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish its sixth assessment report, a comprehensive review of the world’s knowledge of the climate crisis and how human actions are altering the planet. It will show in detail how close the world is to irreversible change.
Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and a lead reviewer for the IPCC, said methane reductions were probably the only way of staving off temperature rises of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which extreme weather will increase and “tipping points” could be reached. “Cutting methane is the biggest opportunity to slow warming between now and 2040,” he said. “We need to face this emergency.”https://c6ee67f87568d73b16477d514712daf5.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0
Zaelke said policymakers must heed the IPCC findings on methane before the UN climate talks, Cop26, in Glasgow in November. “We need to see at Cop26 a recognition of this problem, that we need to do something on this.”
Cutting methane could balance the impact of phasing out coal, a key goal at Cop26 because it is the dirtiest fossil fuel and has caused sharp rises in emissions in recent years. However, coal use has a perverse climate effect: the particles of sulphur it produces shield the Earth from some warming by deflecting some sunlight.
That means the immediate effect of cutting coal use could be to increase warming, although protecting the Earth in the medium and long term. Zaelke said cutting methane could offset that. “Defossilisation will not lead to cooling until about 2050. Sulphur falling out of the atmosphere will unmask warming that is already in the system,” he said.
Satellite data shows that some of the key sources of methane are poorly managed Russian oil and gas wells. Gas can be extracted from conventional drilling using modern techniques that all but eliminate “fugitive” or accidental methane emissions. But while countries such as Qatar take care over methane, Russia, which is a party to the 2015 Paris climate agreement but has made little effort to cut its emissions, has some of the leakiest infrastructure.
“Today more than 40% of EU gas is methane heavy gas from Russia, which is worse than coal for the climate,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser now with the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington. “The EU should begin to measure and then regulate methane emissions from all its natural gas imports to begin a cleanup of global natural gas.”
Zaelke urged governments to consider crafting a new deal, alongside the Paris agreement, that would cover methane and require countries to sharply reduce their gas. “I predict we will have to have a global methane agreement,” he said.
A heat wave in 2020 revealed a new source of methane emissions from the Arctic that could be “much more dangerous” than previously believed, according to a new German study.
The study, conducted by three geologists, found that a heat wave observed in 2020 unveiled a source of methane emissions “potentially in much higher amounts” from rock formations thawing in the Arctic permafrost.
According to The Washington Post, scientists have long been concerned about “the methane bomb,” a potentially disastrous amount of methane released from thawing wetlands in Siberia’s permafrost. The methane released from the wetlands is “microbial” and stems from the decay of soil and organic matter.
The methane emissions from the rock formations, however, come from thawing limestone that releases gases from below the permafrost that are “much more dangerous” than what was previously believed.
Permafrost typically traps methane, but as global temperatures rise, the permafrost melts and more of these trapped gases are released into the atmosphere.
Nikolaus Froitzheim, one of the scientists who conducted the study and a professor at the Institute of Geosciences at Germany’s University of Bonn, explained that he and two colleagues observed two “conspicuous elongated areas” of limestone in the Taymyr Peninsula around northern Siberia.
“We would have expected elevated methane in areas with wetlands,” Froitzheim said. “But these were not over wetlands but on limestone outcrops. There is very little soil in these. It was really a surprising signal from hard rock, not wetlands.”
Currently, the largest sources of methane that aren’t trapped in permafrost come from agriculture and leaks from hydraulic fracturing, according to the paper. But the revelation of a new source of methane is troubling —Froitzheim pointed out that it is unknown how much methane is to be expected from the limestone formations.
“The question is: how much will come, and we don’t really know,” Froitzheim said.
Studies predict a drop in meat consumption is comingBy Mike DorningMay 14, 2021, 3:19 AM PDTPauseUnmuteCurrent Time 3:19/Duration 24:06Loaded: 0%Progress: 0% CaptionsShareFullscreenLeaders With Lacqua Goes Green: Al GoreUnmuteLeaders With Lacqua Goes Green: Al Gore
Eleven Madison Park, a top Manhattan restaurant, is going meatless. The Epicurious cooking site stopped posting new beef recipes. The Culinary Institute of America is promoting “plant-forward” menus. Dozens of colleges, including Harvard and Stanford, are shifting toward “climate-friendly” meals.
If this continues — and the Boston Consulting Group and Kearney believe the trend is global and growing — beef could be the new coal, shunned by elite tastemakers over rising temperatures and squeezed by increasingly cheap alternatives.
“Beef is under a whole lot of pressure,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communications. “It was the shift in market forces that was the death knell for coal. And it’s the same thing here. It’s going to be the shift in consumer tastes and preferences, not some regulation.”
Yet, while long-term trends back the change, U.S. consumption of beef actually ticked up slightly during the 2020 pandemic, to 55.8 pounds per person. It has been slowly rising since 2015 after plunging during the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Consumption last year remained 11.4% below 2006 and nearly 40% below peak 1970s levels, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.Sponsored ContentThe Risk She Took: Kunthea’s Journey to Cambodia’s Middle ClassTiffany & Co.
Tastemakers are pushing. Popular culinary personalities including chef Jamie Oliver are promoting plant-centric meals. Bill Gates is urging developed nations to completely give up conventional beef. Many school and corporate cafeterias have dropped all-beef patties for “blended burgers” made of one-third mushrooms.
Meanwhile, a backlash is stirring among rural Republican politicians who scent a new battleground in the partisan culture wars. In broad swaths of the Heartland, cattle and the rows of corn grown for animal feed are central to livelihood and identity. More than a third of U.S. farms and ranches are beef cattle operations, making it the single largest segment of U.S. agriculture. Burgers sizzle from countless backyard barbecues.
Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts seized on a suggestion by his Democratic counterpart in neighboring Colorado that the state’s residents cut red meat for one day to counter with a “Meat on the Menu” Day. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds outdid him, declaring all of April “Meat on the Menu Month.” Fox News later spent days promoting phony accusations the Biden administration had launched a “War on Beef.”
It hasn’t, but there is no escaping the fact that beef is a climate villain. Cows’ ruminant digestive system ferments grass and other feed in multiple stomach compartments, burping methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Cattle’s relatively long lifespan compared to other meat sources adds to their climate impact.
Globally, 14.5% of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production, with cattle responsible for two-thirds, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Per gram of protein, beef production has more than 6 times the climate impact of pork, more than 8 times that of poultry and 113 times that of peas, according to a 2018 analysis of global production in the journal Science. U.S. livestock producers generally have lower emissions than worldwide averages because of production efficiencies.
Source: Poore and Nemecek, Science, 2018; OurWorldinData.org
Cattle producers have sought to blunt the appeal of competing faux meat products with state laws banning them from using common meat terms and addressed environmental criticism by promoting the role of ranchers as stewards of the land.
“That Wild West is alive and well because cattle producers protect that space and make it resilient,” said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of natural resources for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
For now, an emerging global middle class in China and elsewhere is bolstering global demand for meat and feed-grains used for livestock, improving export opportunities for American farmers and ranchers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said Biden administration climate initiatives won’t target meat consumption.
Investors are rushing into plant-based and cultivated faux meat startups. A Boston Consulting Group report in March heralded the beginning of a “protein transformation” and forecast meat alternatives would make up 11-22% of the global protein market by 2035. A Kearney study projects global meat sales will begin to drop by 2025 and decline 33% by 2040 as alternatives take away market share.Sponsored ContentThe Ring That Reminds Her of Surviving CancerTiffany & Co.
Plant-based alternatives already have hit the mass market, with Burger King’s Impossible Whopper. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks serve plant-based sausage patties. Even Tyson Foods Inc, the U.S.’s largest meat processor, joined in this month with its own line of 100% vegan meat products.
Cultivated meat is also advancing. In December, Singapore became the first country to approve commercial sale of such animal cells.
More than half of roughly 350 school districts in the U.S. supplied by food service giant Sodexo SA have switched from all-beef to blended beef-mushroom burgers and many corporate and health-care customers also use the blend for tacos and lasagna, said Lisa Feldman, director of recipe management. Corporate customers are adopting “choice architecture” to steer employees toward meals with less meat.
A consortium of 41 colleges including Harvard, Stanford and Kansas State University joined in a “Menus of Change” collaborative to shift students to healthier, more climate-friendly diets. Harvard dining halls showcase vegetable and grain-heavy “bistro bowls.” The University of North Texas has a “Mean Greens” vegan dining hall. In 2019, the 19 member institutions that reported data lowered meat purchases 9.4% from the year earlier, even as overall food purchases rose.
Sophie Egan, co-director of the university collaborative, said the initiative consciously targets young people to shape food preferences at a time of life when most are more adventurous and still forming identities and tastes for a lifetime. Students are often especially open to dishes inspired by global cuisines that use less meat.
“We know trends start with the youngest generations,” Egan said. “They’re coming in to the dining hall three times a day, sometimes for years. That’s sculpting their food identities for many years to come.”