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Amount of Methane Emitted by Human Activity has been Vastly Underestimated – AZoCleantech



Methane is known to be a potent greenhouse gas and contributes considerably to global warming. In the past three centuries, emissions of this gas in the air have increased by around 150%.

Image Credit: University of Rochester photo/Benjamin Hmiel.

Despite this fact, researchers have found it difficult to precisely establish the origin of these emissions; heat-trapping gases such as methane can be produced naturally, and also from human activity.

At the University of Rochester, Benjamin Hmiel, a researcher and postdoctoral associate in the laboratory of Vasilii Petrenko, a professor of earth and environmental sciences, and colleagues quantified the levels of methane present in old air samples. They discovered that investigators have been largely underestimating the amount of methane that is emitted by humans into the air through fossil fuels.

In a study published in the Nature journal, the scientists indicated that decreasing the use of fossil fuels is a major target in mitigating climate change.

Placing stricter methane emission regulations on the fossil fuel industry will have the potential to reduce future global warming to a larger extent than previously thought.

Benjamin Hmiel, Researcher and Postdoctoral Associate, University of Rochester

Two Types of Methane

Methane happens to be the second-largest anthropogenic after carbon dioxide (CO2) gas and originates from human activity. It plays a major role in global warming.

However, methane has a comparatively short shelf-life when compared to CO2 and other heat-trapping gases. On average, methane persists in the atmosphere only for nine years, while CO2, for example, can last for approximately 100 years in the air. That renders methane a particularly suitable target for mitigating the levels of emission in a short period of time.

If we stopped emitting all carbon dioxide today, high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would still persist for a long time. Methane is important to study because if we make changes to our current methane emissions, it’s going to reflect more quickly.

Benjamin Hmiel, Researcher and Postdoctoral Associate, University of Rochester

Methane discharged into the air can be divided into two categories, depending on its carbon-14 signature; carbon-14 is a rare radioactive isotope.

Fossil methane in historic hydrocarbon deposits has been sequestered for millions of years and does not contain carbon-14 anymore because this isotope has decomposed. But carbon-14 is present in biological methane, which comes into contact with flora and fauna on the surface of the planet.

Biological methane can be naturally discharged from sources like wetlands or through anthropogenic sources like livestock, rice fields, and landfills.

The focus of Hmiel’s work is fossil methane. This gas can be discharged through natural geologic seeps or due to humans’ extraction and utilization of fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil.

Researchers are able to precisely measure the overall amount of methane discharged into the atmosphere every year; however, it is very hard to break down this total amount of gas into its separate components: Which parts are biological and which portions emerge from fossil sources? What is the level of methane emitted naturally, and how much of this gas is discharged by human activity?

As a scientific community we’ve been struggling to understand exactly how much methane we as humans are emitting into the atmosphere. We know that the fossil fuel component is one of our biggest component emissions, but it has been challenging to pin that down because in today’s atmosphere, the natural and anthropogenic components of the fossil emissions look the same, isotopically.

Vasilii Petrenko, Study Co-Author and Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Rochester

Turning to the Past

Hmiel and his collaborators turned to the past to more precisely isolate the anthropogenic and natural components. They did this by drilling and obtaining ice cores from Greenland. The samples of ice core behave just like time capsules: they include air bubbles with trace amounts of old air trapped within.

Using a melting chamber, the scientists collected the ancient air from the bubbles and subsequently analyzed its chemical composition.

While Hmiel’s study expands on earlier work performed by Petrenko, it is focused on quantifying the air composition from the early 18th century—that is, before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution—to the current day.

It was only until the mid-19th century that humans started to use large amounts of fossil fuels. Quantifying the levels of emission before this time period enables scientists to detect the natural emissions, without the emissions resulting from fossil fuels that exist in the present-day atmosphere. There is no proof to indicate that natural emissions from fossil methane can differ over the duration of a few centuries.

By quantifying the isotopes of carbon-14 in the atmosphere from over two centuries ago, the team discovered that virtually all the methane discharged into the air was biological in nature until around 1870. That is when the component of the fossil began to increase quickly. The timing matches with a sudden increase in the usage of fossil fuels.

The levels of naturally emitted fossil methane are around 10 times lower when compared to earlier studies reported.

Considering the total fossil emissions quantified in the air currently, Hmiel and his collaborators inferred that the artificial fossil component is more than anticipated—25% to 40% higher was discovered by the team.

Climate Change Implications

This information has major implications for climate studies—if emissions of anthropogenic methane constitute a bigger part of the total, then decreasing emissions from human activities, such as the extraction and use of fossil fuels, will have a much larger effect on mitigating upcoming global warming than previously believed by researchers.

That is actually good news for Hmiel. “I don’t want to get too hopeless on this because my data does have a positive implication: most of the methane emissions are anthropogenic, so we have more control. If we can reduce our emissions, it’s going to have more of an impact,” he added.

The research was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and the David and Lucille Packard Foundation and is the latest example of the University of Rochester’s initiatives to further interpret the budget of global methane.

Researchers from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Rochester have carried out field studies in Earth’s oceans, the Great Lakes, Greenland, and Antarctica. They have utilized climate models and machine learning to develop an understanding of the powerful greenhouse gas methane and the ways it impacts climate change and global warming.


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Stargazer in Italy spots NASA's DART asteroid impact probe in night sky after launch –



An Italian telescope captured NASA’s asteroid-smashing mission shortly after its launch into space this week. 

A new image and video, taken by the Elena telescope located in Ceccano, Italy, shows NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test mission, also known as DART, separated from the second stage of the Falcon 9 rocket which launched the spacecraft from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on Tuesday (Nov. 23 PST, or early Nov. 24 EST) . The mission sent DART on a 10-month-long journey to a binary asteroid system called Didymos

Both DART and the booster can be seen in this image (above), which was taken remotely with a single 30-second exposure, astronomer Gianluca Masi said in a statement. Masi runs the Virtual Telescope Project 2.0, which includes the Elena telescope.

The image was taken remotely 10 hours after DART lifted off, Masi said.

Related: NASA’s DART asteroid-impact mission explained in pictures

NASA’s DART spacecraft and a Falcon 9 second stage booster that launched it can be seen as two small dots at the center of this image capture a few hours after the mission’s launch. (Image credit: The Virtual Telescope Project)

The robotic Elena telescope automatically tracked DART and the booster, both of which are visible at the center of the image as bright dots. The short white lines surrounding those two dots are stars in the background. When the image was taken, DART was about 93,000 miles (150,000 kilometers) from Earth, about half the distance between our planet and the moon, Masi said. 

In addition to the static image, the telescope also captured a short video sequence, which shows the separated second-stage booster blinking. This blinking, Masi said, is caused by the booster spinning. 

The pioneering DART mission will conduct a first-of-its-kind test that will show if and how a spacecraft can change the path of an asteroid by smashing into it. In September of next year, the spacecraft will ram into a 525-foot-wide (160 meters) asteroid “moonlet” known as Dimorphos, which orbits the larger space rock Didymos. The goal of the experiment is to alter Dimorphos’ orbit around Didymos, shortening it by several minutes, to prove that such an intervention could divert the trajectory of a large asteroid if, in the future, one were to be on a path that threatened planet Earth.

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DART also carries a small cubesat called LICIACube, from Italy’s space agency, which will be released 10 days ahead of DART’s self-destructive impact and film the aftermath of the crash. 

In 2024, the European Space Agency (ESA) will also send a larger surveyor spacecraft called Hera to the asteroid system that will analyze the crater and gather data about Didymos’ and Dimorphos’ physical structure and chemical composition. By then, astronomers will have known whether DART deflected Dimorphos, thanks to ground-based observations. 

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook

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Russia’s new module on ISS to offer docking opportunity for foreign spacecraft in future – TASS



KOROLYOV /Moscow Region/, November 26. /TASS/. NASA and Roscosmos have begun talks on harmonizing technical standards of Crew Dragon spaceships with the Russian module and Russian spacecraft with the US segment on the International Space Station (ISS), Roscosmos Chief Dmitry Rogozin said at the Flight Control Center on Friday.

“NASA and Roscosmos have launched talks on harmonizing technical standards that will allow not only Crew Dragon or Russian spaceships to dock with the American segment but, in general, this docking is possible and will require an adapter,” Rogozin said, replying to a question about whether US spacecraft would be able to dock to Russia’s new Prichal nodal module.

The Prichal module’s docking completed the formation of the ISS Russian segment, the Roscosmos chief said.

The Prichal nodal module will also serve as a prototype for similar modules for the future Russian Orbital Service Station (ROSS) that will be the ‘joints’ of its space body, Rogozin said.

“This is one of the most important prototypes for creating the ROSS whose architecture will differ from the ISS. It should employ the principle of eternal service life: modules that use up their potential will be detached from the station and it will be augmented in a different direction with the help of such nodal modules that will serve as some joints of a new and large metal design engineering body,” Rogozin said.

A Soyuz-2.1b carrier rocket with the Progress M-UM space freighter and the Prichal nodal module blasted off from Launch Pad No. 31 (‘Vostok’) of the Baikonur spaceport to the orbital outpost at 16:06 Moscow time on November 24. The flight to the orbital outpost took two days. The Prichal module docked with the Russian Nauka research lab on November 26.

The new module will boost the capabilities of Russian spaceships, including the latest Oryol spacecraft, to dock with the ISS. Overall, the new module will have five docking ports. The first docking of a manned spacecraft with the Prichal module is scheduled for March 18.

The spacecraft-module also delivered about 700 kg of various cargo to the ISS, including equipment and consumables, water purification, medical control including sanitary and hygienic supplies, maintenance and repair tools, as well as standard food rations for the 66th Main Expedition crew.

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Italy and France sign agreement on space launchers



 Italy and France clinched an accord on Friday to strengthen their cooperation on space launchers as part of a broader bilateral treaty.

Among the goals laid out in the bilateral treaty were pledges to reinforce military connections, including at an industrial level, and work together in the space sector.

The two countries agreed to work together on liquid and solid propulsion and press ahead with the development of launchers Ariane 6 and Vega C, Italy’s innovation minister and France’s economy minister said in a joint press release.

Launchers are the second largest area of space-manufacturing activity in Europe after commercial satellites, according to the European Space Agency (ESA).

For the development of Ariane 6, ESA is working with more than 600 companies in 13 European countries, led by prime contractor ArianeGroup, which is a joint venture of Airbus and Safran.

ESA is overseeing procurement and the architecture of the overall Vega-C launch system, while industry is building the rocket with Italy’s Avio as prime contractor.


(Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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