Years ago, a cloud of methane gas about the size of Delaware was detected over the Four Corners region (where the borders of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meet).
At the time, the methane readings were so high that scientists at NASA dismissed the cloud as a data collection issue.
“We didn’t focus on it because we weren’t sure if it was a true signal or an instrument error,”
said Christian Frankenberg, a scientist who does research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
But now, a new study carried out by NASA has confirmed that the 2,500 square mile methane cloud is indeed the real deal.
Eric Kort, the study’s lead author, is a professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Kort believes the methane cloud is most likely the result of historically high levels of coal-mining in the San Juan Basin, which he called, “…the most active coalbed methane production area in the country.”
The new study found that from 2003-2009, the San Juan Basin was emitting more than 650,000 tons of methane every year, 3.5 times more than had been previously estimated.
Although carbon dioxide is far more plentiful in the atmosphere, methane is actually a much more potent greenhouse gas.
greenhouse gas: any gas in the atmosphere that prevents heat from escaping back into space, trapping it on Earth in a process called the “greenhouse effect”
According to The Atlantic, methane is a whopping 80% more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
An article in the Christian Science Monitor estimates that the 2,500 square mile cloud of methane absorbs and traps more heat annually than all the carbon emissions of Sweden, which has an area of 173,732 square miles.
“The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried,”
said lead researcher Eric Kort.
“There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole.”
Read the original story from Digital Journal here.