NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 4, 2008

Scientists at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have recorded a nearly simultaneous world-wide increase in methane levels.  This is the first increase in 10 years, and what baffles science is that this data contradicts theories stating man is the primary source of increases in this greenhouse gas.  It takes about one full year for gases generated in the highly industrial northern hemisphere to cycle through and reach the southern hemisphere.  However, since all worldwide levels rose simultaneously throughout the same year, it is now believed this may be part of a natural cycle in mother nature -- and not the direct result of man's contributions.

The two lead authors of a paper published in this week's Geophysical Review Letters, Matthew Rigby and Ronald Prinn, the TEPCO Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry in MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Science, state that as a result of the increase, several million tons of new methane is present in the atmosphere:

  • Methane accounts for roughly one-fifth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, though its effect is 25 times greater than that of carbon dioxide.
  • Its impact on global warming comes from the reflection of the sun's light back to the Earth (like a greenhouse).
  • Methane is typically broken down in the atmosphere by the free radical hydroxyl (OH), a naturally occurring process.
  • This atmospheric cleanser has been shown to adjust itself up and down periodically, and is believed to account for the lack of increases in methane levels in Earth's atmosphere over the past 10 years despite notable simultaneous increases in industrial emissions.

One thing does seem very clear, however; science is only beginning to get a handle on the big picture of global warming.  Findings like these tell us it's too early to know for sure if man's impact is affecting things at "alarming rates."  We may simply be going through another natural cycle of warmer and colder times -- one that's been observed through a scientific analysis of the Earth to be naturally occurring for hundreds of thousands of years, say the scientists.

Source: Rick C. Hodgin, "MIT scientists baffled by global warming theory, contradicts scientific data,", October 30, 2008.         


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