text-only page produced automatically by LIFT Text Transcoder Skip all navigation and go to page contentSkip top navigation and go to directorate navigationSkip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation
News
design element
News
News From the Field
For the News Media
Special Reports
Research Overviews
NSF-Wide Investments
Speeches & Lectures
NSF Current Newsletter
Multimedia Gallery
News Archive
News by Research Area
Arctic & Antarctic
Astronomy & Space
Biology
Chemistry & Materials
Computing
Earth & Environment
Education
Engineering
Mathematics
Nanoscience
People & Society
Physics
 

Email this pagePrint this page


Press Release 11-165
Ethane Levels Yield Information About Changes in Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Research at Greenland and Antarctic shows decline in methane and ethane levels

Image of researchers sampling ice at the South Pole.

Researchers sample ice at the South Pole.
Credit and Larger Version

August 12, 2011

Recent data from NSF-funded research in both Greenland and Antarctica demonstrate that fossil-fuel related emissions of both methane and ethane, two of the most abundant hydrocarbons in the atmosphere, declined at the end of the twentieth century, according to a paper published Thursday in the journal Nature.

The causes of the decline in methane emission rates to the atmosphere have been puzzling scientists for some time. This new study shows that a change in human activities may have played a key role in the recent leveling off of methane, which, being a potent greenhouse gas contributes to global temperatures.

Murat Aydin from the University of California, Irvine is the lead author of the paper. Other researchers include Kristal Verhulst, Eric Saltzman, Donald Blake, Qi Tang, and Michael Prather from UCI, Mark Battle from Bowdoin College, and Stephen Montzka from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The team investigated the history of fossil-fuel emissions of methane, based on measurements of another hydrocarbon, ethane, in air trapped in the polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. The ancient air resides close to the surface, within the perennial snowpack, and can be used to study changes in the atmosphere that occurred during the twentieth century.

"Fossil fuels are a common source of both ethane and methane. Methane has many other sources, but we know most of the ethane in the atmosphere today is from fossil fuels. If ethane changes, it is easier to figure out the cause" said Aydin. "After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most important greenhouse gas. This research was conducted to track ethane and to see what it could tell us about methane. We found that ethane emissions declined at the same time as the rise in methane dramatically slowed, suggesting a common cause." At the end of the 20th century, methane and ethane were deemed valuable energy resources; collected and consumed as natural gas they are converted to carbon dioxide. The researchers' results for this time frame indicate that the leveling off in atmospheric methane in recent years is likely linked to this change in energy use.

"This research helps explain why atmospheric methane levels stabilized at the end of the twentieth century" said co-author Eric Saltzman. "Methane levels are important for global climate and understanding how human activities affect methane is a key part of predicting how much warming we may expect in the future."

"We still have more research to conduct, but this discovery is significant to our efforts in determining the link between ethane and methane and what it may tell us about climate change," said Julie Palais, NSF program director. "We must work together to continue to find ways to further our research on this very important subject."

-NSF-

Media Contacts
Deborah Wing, NSF, (703) 292-5344, dwing@nsf.gov

Program Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7530, pwest@nsf.gov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

 Get News Updates by Email 

Useful NSF Web Sites:
NSF Home Page: http://www.nsf.gov
NSF News: http://www.nsf.gov/news/
For the News Media: http://www.nsf.gov/news/newsroom.jsp
Science and Engineering Statistics: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/
Awards Searches: http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/

 

border=0/


Email this pagePrint this page
Back to Top of page