Pyramid Science

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Methane - A Greenhouse Gas

Methane - Squaring up to Carbon Dioxide
Methane - The 'Fart'

As a primordial gas, methane was most likely to be the original atmospheric blanket environment and would have developed possibly by combination of hydrogen (from water) and carbon. The mechanism is a little obscure, though these elements somehow generated the gas carbon dioxide which led to oxygen through the existence of bacterial-driven photosynthesis.

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas (by around 20 times) than carbon dioxide and escapes from solution in the water the same as any gas: warm liquids retain less gas than cooler ones so as the sea temperature warms then more of the gas is released. Water is dynamic and moves around the globe and for this reason carbon trading has no logic. The speed of movement differs between locations, but move it does. The Arctic (and by logical conclusion the Antarctic) will show an increase in the volume of the gas released into the atmosphere. Reports (New Scientist) dating from 2005 illustrate that Russia's northern coast could be releasing billions of tonnes of methane into the atmosphere (Siberian continental shelf). The Arctic, however, is more likely as the source location as vegetation in the northern hemisphere is more abundant.

Arctic methane chimneys have a disappearing ice lid that allows the gas to escape. The association of melting ice and warming temperatures is a natural combination that would prevent the build up of pressure as the gas begins to bubble out of solution. Ice forms a lid over the 'chimney' with decreasing temperature and dissolves more gas or warms and releases the gas from the water. Cyclical and dependent of environmental temperature. This this a classic "chicken and egg" scenario since warming and the associated increase in the volume of methane gas is a cause and effect, but which is the cause and which the effect? The warming effect releases the gas, though is the cause of warming the methane itself? Or is the effect causing the release of methane gas though by some entirely different mechanism?

Clathrate Hydrates
'Solid' Gas

Essentially, the volatile gas at warmer temperatures is frozen by encapsulation with water and is converted to a solid form. As the temperature rises, the ice melts releasing the gas.
  • Perpetual and self-sustaining. The Earth has been in existence for several billions of years so any cyclical events would have occurred many times and the presence of Mankind (responsible or not) has only been around for a few hundred thousand years.
  • Mankind is too readily blamed for causing the problems and the debate continues, but other natural phenomena provide answers. Very gradual precession of the Earth over 1000s of years as it rotates in it's annual orbit around the Sun is an excellent candidate for an alternative and a cooler head.
Devil's Advocate: maybe a similar mechanism for a volatile gas in solution applies and the hotter head allows common sense to boil off, but the cooler head retains more sense.


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