Picture methane's effect on global warming: new camera measures potent greenhouse gas

Methane camera test at Foljesjon, a lake in a research area west of Vanersborg, Sweden
© Linköping University

Methane usually escapes industrial and agricultural operations as fugitive gas. That doesn't mean that methane is hiding from the law; environmental chemists use the term "fugitive" to refer to leaks and unintended emissions. Fugitive emissions like methane challenge pollution control experts, because they do not come from a more easily controllable "point source", like a smokestack or process pipe, which could be fitted with technology to capture or clean up the gas.

To make matters worse, methane also occurs naturally. Finding and quantifying those emissions is critical to achieving a good model for predicting climate change.

Enter the scientists at Linköping University, with their methane camera. This instrument delivers important, and sobering, studies -- such as the recent finding that as anthropogenic (human-caused) warming occurs, lakes naturally emit more methane which accelerates the warming further (or makes our cuts in emission worth more, if you want to look at the positive side).

More importantly, such a tool could be used in much the way that thermal imaging has been used to improve energy efficiency by targeting heat loss with improved insulation. Finding the methane "hot spots" is the first step to repairing pipes, changing gaskets, tightening flanges, or growing cleaner cows.

Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, but also less long-lived in the atmosphere. So quick action on methane could be a big help in fending off global climate upsets -- as long as the politicians don't give industry too much credit for reducing with short-term benefits over taking the long view.

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