The Viridian Design Movement

Viridian Note 00396: Jolly News for the New Year

Key concepts:
methane in Earth's atmosphere stabilizes for no apparent reason
Attention Conservation Notice:
Errs on the side of the life-affirming in a frank attempt to keep people's hopes up.

The year 2003 was the world's third hottest year ever, but hey, at least 2003 wasn't the hottest-hottest ever. A lot of us survived 2003, even in Europe!,4057,8190217%255E401,00.html

The Prius is MotorTrend's car of the year.

A fuel cell so small that it's built into a chip.

There's an interesting development: ardent political activists who just plain hate petroleum and big oil's corrupting role in government.

If the US Congress can't manage to pass a new energy policy, they can always use this perfectly sensible and decent new British energy policy, recently passed without much fuss.

Beautiful embrace-the-decay pics of a defunct Alaskan gold mine eaten by Alaskan natural forces. Imagine how that mining wreckage will look after another hundred years.

This is the oddest and most interesting good news of the season. Concentrations of methane, a serious greenhouse gas, have somehow levelled off in the atmosphere. Nobody quite knows why this has happened, but, well, without any kind of apparent major effort on humanity's part, methane has simply stopped increasing after 200 solid years of growth.

Source: NATURE magazine, Helen Pearson

"Greenhouse gases level off

"Concerted efforts could further fall of methane. 28 November 2003

by Helen Pearson

"Levels of the greenhouse gas methane have plateaued for the first time in around 200 years, shows a new report.

"Methane is second only to carbon dioxide in contributing to our planet's warming. The gas == belched out by fossil-fuel burning, rice paddies, festering farm manure and landfill sites == has been accumulating steadily since the Industrial Revolution.

"Now the tide may be turning, say Ed Dlugokencky of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado, and his team. They found that levels steadied between 1999 and 2002, according to measurements from 43 ground-based stations around the world.

Link: Carbon Cycle Greenhouse Gases Group

"The reason for the change is unclear. Dlugokencky believes that a major contributing factor was the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Oil and gas production fell, and the industry became more efficient at plugging gas leaks from pipes and wells. (((Communists did that, eh? After 200 years? Really? No kiddin'?)))

"Experts are keen to point out that the plateau is no cause for complacency. (((As far as I can figure, there's just plain "no cause".))) Increasing fossil-fuel consumption in developing nations, or renewed drilling for natural gas, might boost methane again. 'The trajectory is still moving up, in my opinion,' says atmospheric chemist David Blake of the University of California, Irvine.

"Indeed, says Blake, the finding highlights how small steps to cut methane emissions could slow global warming. Leaking gas pipelines could be capped, for example, and incentives introduced to encourage landfill owners and farmers use methane to run power generators. (((Yeah, yeah but... well, this kind of begs the question of what's actually going on up there. Is there less methane emitted somehow, or maybe some kind of unknown mechanism kicking in to destroy it more quickly in the atmosphere? Nobody's got the foggiest.)))

"Gas bill

"Earlier studies hinted at a slowing in the long-term rise in methane == but Dlugokencky's conclusion is based on particularly frequent and accurate measurements. 'He can connect the dots in a more accurate way than we can,' explains Blake.

"Accumulating methane is thought to prevent heat escaping from Earth into space, like the thickening blanket of carbon dioxide. It probably accounts for roughly 20% of the warming effects of greenhouse gases, compared with the 40-50% attributed to carbon dioxide. (((So this is kind of big deal, really. Too bad nobody understands it.)))

"Human activities pump out more than two-thirds of the methane in the atmosphere, the rest comes mainly from natural wetlands. Methane survives an average of nine years in the sky before it is broken down in reactions with short-lived compounds called hydroxyl radicals.

"A quickening of this destruction might partly explain the methane plateau. Changes in climate can also alter the amount oozed by wetlands. 'A collection of things has resulted in this trend,' says Elaine Matthews, who studies methane emissions at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University in New York. (((A "collection of things"? Wow, that sounds like a pretty safe assessment. Maybe one could use that to get out of a speeding ticket == "Er, a 'collection of things' caused me to exceed the speed limit, officer!")))


"Dlugochenky, E. J. et al. Atmospheric methane levels off: temporary pause or a new steady state? Geophysical Research Letters, 30, doi:10.1029/2003GL018126, (2003)."

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