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posted by martyb on Saturday July 12 2014, @06:19PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the jumpin'-jack-flash dept.

A just-published analysis of data received from a satellite in 2004 has shown that at least during that year, livestock in the U.S. emitted more methane into the atmosphere than did the oil and gas industry. In their article published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, a team of researchers from Harvard University, California Institute of Technology and the University of California studying the data note that such emissions were far higher than was reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Specifically, the researchers found satellite data showed livestock emitted 13 million tons of methane over the summer in 2004 (the EPA reported 9.7 million tons). They found the satellite data also showed that the combined emissions of the oil and gas industry amounted to 7 million tons (the EPA reported 9.9 million tons).

Unfortunately the sensor on the satellite was unable to show methane amounts after 2004, thus more data is not available. That will, however, change soon as a new satellite with sophisticated atmospheric gas monitoring sensors aboard is set to launch next year. More information on the role that methane plays in changing our climate can be found here.

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Wildfires Play Bigger Role in Climate Change than Previously Thought 9 comments

It has long been known that biomass burning -- burning forests to create agricultural lands, burning savannah as a ritual , slash-and-burn agriculture and wildfires -- figures into both climate change and public health.

But until the release of a new study by Stanford University Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, the degree of that contribution had never been comprehensively quantified.

Jacobson's research, detailed in a paper published July 30 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, is based on a three-dimensional computer model simulation of the impacts of biomass burning. His findings indicate that burning biomass is playing a much bigger role in climate change and human health issues than previously thought.

"We calculate that 5 to 10 percent of worldwide air pollution mortalities are due to biomass burning," Jacobson said. "That means that it causes the premature deaths of about 250,000 people each year."

Carbon, of course, is associated with global warming. Most carbon emissions linked to human activity are in the form of carbon dioxide gas (CO2), but other forms of carbon include the methane gas (CH4) and the particles generated by such fires -- the tiny bits of soot, called black carbon, and motes of associated substances known as brown carbon.

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  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Saturday July 12 2014, @06:55PM

    by kaszz (4211) on Saturday July 12 2014, @06:55PM (#68203) Journal

    Eat less meat?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:08PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:08PM (#68204)

      > Eat less meat?

      Also less rice [sciencedaily.com]

      And 2004 was before the fracking boom really got started. [salon.com]

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by kaszz on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:10PM

        by kaszz (4211) on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:10PM (#68206) Journal

        If they emit CH4 then CO2 is going to be one of the lesser concerns. All in the name of the almighty profit..

      • (Score: 2) by meisterister on Sunday July 13 2014, @05:25AM

        by meisterister (949) on Sunday July 13 2014, @05:25AM (#68377) Journal

        Really? Fine, ruin my favorite food why don't you.

        --
        (May or may not have been) Posted from my K6-2, Athlon XP, or Pentium I/II/III.
    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Joe Desertrat on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:40PM

      by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:40PM (#68215)

      What about other large mammals, such as bison? If we eliminated cattle ranches out in the western U.S. and let the bison herds restore themselves, would the effect be any different?

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:48PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:48PM (#68220)

        > If we eliminated cattle ranches out in the western U.S. and let the bison herds restore themselves,

        The latter does not follow from the former.

        • (Score: 2) by Oligonicella on Saturday July 12 2014, @08:30PM

          by Oligonicella (4169) on Saturday July 12 2014, @08:30PM (#68235)

          It was a hypothetical and you avoided answering.

          • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:21PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:21PM (#68264)

            Since it would take centuries for the bison herds to "restore themselves" to anywhere near where commercial cattle farming levels are, it is a valueless question. Yes, if bison herds were the same size as commercial cattle herds are now then they would have the same problem. But they are not, were not and will not ever be that size.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 14 2014, @05:00PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 14 2014, @05:00PM (#68964)

              Yes, if bison herds were the same size as commercial cattle herds are now then they would have the same problem. But they are not, were not and will not ever be that size.

              Huh? Bison ranged across the plains in herds estimated from a total of 50 million on up. I doubt very much you have anything close to the same number of cattle currently in the same area. You couldn't, cattle are very hard on arid range. The numbers of bison have increased from a few dozen animals in the early 20th century when they were nearly wiped out to roughly 500,000 today, with strictly limited range available to them. Eliminate the cattle and the fences, set them free to roam (look up Buffalo Commons) and their population will increase rapidly. Since they are generally more beneficial to the land than cattle, more of them can survive in the same area.

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Reziac on Sunday July 13 2014, @02:44AM

          by Reziac (2489) on Sunday July 13 2014, @02:44AM (#68332) Homepage

          Actually it does. Grasslands evolved to be grazed, and before there were cattle, there were very large numbers of bison doing that grazing (plus other animals, but we'll just consider bison here) -- estimates run from 30 million to as high as 50 million animals.
          http://www.fws.gov/bisonrange/timeline.htm [fws.gov]

          Total inventory of cattle in the U.S. last year was about 87 million animals.
          http://agebb.missouri.edu/mkt/bull12c.htm [missouri.edu]

          Bison average about twice the mass of domestic cattle, and all males in the wild grew to fullsized bulls (cows and steers do not achieve nearly the same mass as bulls, and the vast majority of modern male cattle are castrated). By weight alone, one bison equals 2 to 3 modern steers or cows. So at their native population, there were more pounds of bison present than there now are of cattle.

          Also, cattle are about 5% more efficient than bison, so they need to eat less to support the same mass of animal... and better feed utilization means less wasted as methane.
          http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1456&context=greatplainsresearch [unl.edu]

          So if the object is to reduce methane production, the evidence indicates that we had best stick with the current situation and domestic cattle, rather than returning to the native natural situation of a somewhat larger and less-efficient mass of bison.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by cyrano on Saturday July 12 2014, @08:44PM

        by cyrano (1034) on Saturday July 12 2014, @08:44PM (#68239) Homepage

        Forget mammals, look at termites. 20 million ton per year.

        http://www.ghgonline.org/methanetermite.htm [ghgonline.org]

        --
        The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. - Kali [kali.org]
      • (Score: 3, Informative) by kaszz on Saturday July 12 2014, @09:06PM

        by kaszz (4211) on Saturday July 12 2014, @09:06PM (#68245) Journal

        Industrial scale "farms" also concentrate manure etc in such quantities that natural processes have a hard time to break them down properly.

        • (Score: 2) by PinkyGigglebrain on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:22PM

          by PinkyGigglebrain (4458) on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:22PM (#68265)

          Another thing about industrial farms is the use of corn as feed. It fattens up a cow faster than grass and is cheaper. But a cow is not adapted to eating corn and it causes major issues, including the generation of large amounts of methane. Even a cow fed grass generates methane, all mammals and some insects do, but not as much.

          --
          "Beware those who would deny you Knowledge, For in their hearts they dream themselves your Master."
        • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Sunday July 13 2014, @02:54AM

          by Reziac (2489) on Sunday July 13 2014, @02:54AM (#68335) Homepage

          If it's not breaking down, it's not generating methane... But the fact is, manure experiences excellent demand as a base for fertilizer (about half the commercial fertilizer starts life as manure, but there's not enough manure to satisfy this market). It gets either used on the farm or trucked off to a fertilizer plant, like Bandini in Los Angeles. Mountains of it? Yeah, between production and being hauled off... Most people have NO idea how much herbivores eat, let alone how much they shit.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by richtopia on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:32PM

      by richtopia (3160) Subscriber Badge on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:32PM (#68272) Homepage Journal

      Eat more kangaroo! They aren't ruminants so they don't produce methane.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangaroo#Absence_of_digestive_methane_release [wikipedia.org]

      There are actually many more reasons. For example I live in Arizona, and I cannot figure out why people ranch cattle when camels or kangaroos evolved to live in the desert! Well, aside from the demand.

      • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:47PM

        by kaszz (4211) on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:47PM (#68276) Journal

        Humans are habit animals. Tend to require starvation or other crisis to make it worthwhile to try new habits.

    • (Score: 2) by davester666 on Sunday July 13 2014, @04:19AM

      by davester666 (155) on Sunday July 13 2014, @04:19AM (#68363)

      Produce more oil!

  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:15PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:15PM (#68208)

    Don't assume that this means cows are a bigger global warming problem than fossil fuels. This article only addresses the methane produced while EXTRACTING the oil and gas, not the CO2 emissions from burning them. I imagine these emissions are orders of magnitude higher, since after all the idea is to capture the gas and oil and sell it, not to let it escape into the atmosphere at the wellhead.

    • (Score: 2) by pe1rxq on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:02PM

      by pe1rxq (844) on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:02PM (#68262) Homepage

      It has nothing to do with global warming because cows are not releasing carbon that has been underground for milions of years.
      If anybody uses this research to link global warming to cow farts he/she is either clueless or lying.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:23PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:23PM (#68268)

        > It has nothing to do with global warming because cows are not releasing carbon

        This is about methane not co2. Methane has a much larger impact on global warming per ton than co2, like orders of magnitude more. But there is much less of it being created too.

        • (Score: 3, Informative) by pe1rxq on Sunday July 13 2014, @12:04AM

          by pe1rxq (844) on Sunday July 13 2014, @12:04AM (#68293) Homepage

          The carbon source for the methane still matters.
          The methane released by cows is part of a short cycle. (a bit more complex than CO2, but methane is still broken down over time).
          The extra methane comming from fossil fuels is a far bigger problem, it was not part of this short cycle before and the mechanisms breaking down methane will not get rid of it as quick as we are adding it.

          • (Score: 1) by deimtee on Monday July 14 2014, @12:16AM

            by deimtee (3272) on Monday July 14 2014, @12:16AM (#68706) Journal

            Methane has a pretty short half-life before it oxidises to CO2 and water. Either UV catalyzed, or it gets up high enough to react with ozone.
            Regardless of how much is emitted (excluding something like an ocean clathrate catastrophe) it is effectively gone in twelve years.

            --
            No problem is insoluble, but at Ksp = 2.943×10−25 Mercury Sulphide comes close.
      • (Score: 2) by Reziac on Sunday July 13 2014, @03:00AM

        by Reziac (2489) on Sunday July 13 2014, @03:00AM (#68337) Homepage

        Yeah, it's a pretty safe bet that if you backtrack this article you'll find an animal rights or 'earth first' type organization. They excel at lying via statistics.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by carguy on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:23PM

      by carguy (568) Subscriber Badge on Saturday July 12 2014, @10:23PM (#68267)

      Will be interesting to see the new numbers when the next satellite is in operation. The new style of fracking deep horizontal gas wells for increased production has all gotten going since 2004--and huge amounts of methane are often released (sometimes flared off) before the new wells are connected to transmission pipelines.

    • (Score: 1) by Happy.Heyoka on Sunday July 13 2014, @03:55AM

      by Happy.Heyoka (4542) on Sunday July 13 2014, @03:55AM (#68355)

      There's also the problems of leaking methane from reticulation systems, pretty much ignored until people started pounding the pavement with sensors.

      The grid size of this satellite sensor was huge and is afaik dependant on the accuracy of ground observations for calibration.
      From reading about it it seems they use a model for mixing of gases to figure out how to plot the concentrations.

      What I wonder is how the data is different for, say, me opening a valve on a tank of gas in the middle of a field vs a couple of hundred cows in that field.

  • (Score: 2) by mendax on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:18PM

    by mendax (2840) on Saturday July 12 2014, @07:18PM (#68209)

    There are more than seven billion people on this planet nearly all of whom fart at least once a day. As you get older farting becomes more common. God knows the bout of farting I had last night while trying to sleep rather unsuccessfully released a lot of methane.

    --
    It's really quite a simple choice: Life, Death, or Los Angeles.
    • (Score: 2) by frojack on Saturday July 12 2014, @08:06PM

      by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Saturday July 12 2014, @08:06PM (#68228) Journal

      Even those who never fart (every woman I've ever known claims to be in that class), the poo processing generates quite a bit of methane, (and Nitrous Oxide and a few other things), and while much lip-service was paid toward energy recovery by methane capture, very few plants do so. And when they do, they burn it for fuel [co2offsetresearch.org], so it all gets released as co2.

      CO2 is less damaging then methane, so I suppose that is a net good.

      --
      No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
      • (Score: 2) by FatPhil on Sunday July 13 2014, @12:32PM

        by FatPhil (863) <{pc-soylent} {at} {asdf.fi}> on Sunday July 13 2014, @12:32PM (#68499) Homepage
        You highlight one reason why this research is bogus. The fossil-fuel industry doesn't want to be *emitting* methane, as methane is a *fuel*. If they can't capture it, they'll flare it. (At least here, where we have a pretty fracked-up energy industry.)
        --
        Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people; the smallest discuss themselves
  • (Score: 1) by chewbacon on Saturday July 12 2014, @08:54PM

    by chewbacon (1032) on Saturday July 12 2014, @08:54PM (#68241)

    Vegetarians are bad for the planet. They're eating plants that turn co2 to o2 and not eating animals that poison the atmosphere.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Buck Feta on Saturday July 12 2014, @09:27PM

    by Buck Feta (958) on Saturday July 12 2014, @09:27PM (#68254) Journal

    I'm eating cows, pigs, and chickens as fast as I can!

    --
    - fractious political commentary goes here -
  • (Score: 3, Informative) by Snotnose on Saturday July 12 2014, @09:33PM

    by Snotnose (1623) on Saturday July 12 2014, @09:33PM (#68257)

    and every one of them used already :( I gotta get less of a life and camp here more.

    --
    I fondly remember the day I made sandcastles with my grandmother. Just wish I hadn't done it in the crematorium.
  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by kbahey on Sunday July 13 2014, @03:32AM

    by kbahey (1147) on Sunday July 13 2014, @03:32AM (#68352) Homepage

    Vast herds of cattle are not the issue. After all, North America had huge herds roaming freely for millennia. Similar herds were in Europe as well. All these produced methane as well with no ill effect on earth's climate.

    The above is about methane only. That is not the whole picture.
    How about all the CO2 that is emitted by burning fossil fuel since the early 19th century?

    • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Sunday July 13 2014, @05:58AM

      by Snotnose (1623) on Sunday July 13 2014, @05:58AM (#68389)

      How about the methane emitted by the hordes of humanity that is occupying the same space as hordes of wildlife did 200 years ago?

      / not talking about my ex

      // nope, not at all

      /// won't someone think of the, uh, buffalo?

      --
      I fondly remember the day I made sandcastles with my grandmother. Just wish I hadn't done it in the crematorium.