Methane by Pamela The molecule, methane, is made up of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms making the compound CH4. It is the second most important greenhouse gas. One molecule of methane is twenty times more efficient at absorbing infrared radiation than a molecule of carbon dioxide (CO2). The amount of methane is increasing about 1% a year, faster than any other greenhouse gas. Recently, the concentration is 1.7 parts per million (ppm), which is nearly twice of what it was a few hundred of years ago. Methane contributes to 18% of global warming. If methane continues at the same pace, the concentration will double again in about 60 years because particles of methane stay in the atmosphere for seven to ten years.Most releases of methane are natural processes happening on Earth. Cattle produces the largest source of methane by digesting grass. Since cows belch about twice a minute, one cow can release as much as half a pound of methane everyday. Special microorganisms in the cows stomach turn about 10% of everything cows eat into methane. One point three million cows release about a hundred million tons of methane to the atmosphere each year! Methane is also caused by termites when they digest the plant matter that they eat because they also have the same microorganisms in their abdomen. Deforestation is causing the world s termite population to increase rapidly. Tropical rain forests that have been cut down and left untouched, are perfect breeding grounds for termites. Although small, if these insects multiply the methane contribution could become serious to the atmosphere. Microorganisms that live in waterlogged soils also produce methane, by breaking down peat and other organic matter. When organic material is decomposed by bacteria without the presence of air, which is called anaerobic decomposition, it gives off methane. Even though, bogs and swamps release small amounts of methane, the massive number of them throughout the terrestrial sphere adds up. More than half of the people in the world depend on rice, and the rice paddies discharge methane. The hollow stems of the rice plant act as tubes through which methane moves up from the soggy soil. The burning of rain forests and grasslands causes the soil microorganisms to increase their pace in producing methane. Sixty percent of methane releases are due to human related activities. Garbage dumps, coal mines, natural gas leaks, and landfills increase the methane discharge rapidly, including the breeding of cows, termite multiplicity, and rice paddies. Garbage dumps and landfills have organic matter in them which rots all together ejecting methane. Natural gas comes from deep within the ground usually in conjunction with petroleum, and can come out of coal mines, or thin streams from the ground, called marsh gas. Natural gas is ninety-six percent methane. Humans are burning down the rain forests of Africa and South America emitting methane along with carbon dioxide. About half of all humans have something similar to anaerobic bacteria in their stomachs, so eating a lot of meat causes more CH4 than the consumption of plants.
Future problems of methane deals with the global warming already happening. If the Earth gets any warmer, the Arctic tundra will melt. Underneath the tundra is the largest potential source of methane because below the layer of ice is the permafrost. The permafrost is made up of soil rich in peat. If the ice thaws out then microorganisms can get into the soil and begin their breaking down process. Scientist don t know how much more the Arctic tundra will increase the concentration of methane, but they do know that it will make the greenhouse effect even worse. Methane does a lot in the stratosphere. The more methane there is in the atmosphere, the more water vapor. In the stratosphere, methane removes chlorine, but if there isn t any chlorine then the methane atoms start to react with the ozone layer atoms (O3) therefore destroying them. Hydroxyl (HO) is the one natural thing in the atmosphere that will react with methane. So if methane increases in the troposphere, hydroxyl decreases in the stratosphere. Hydroxyl also helps clean up carbon monoxide and HCFCs, so if methane increases it will take all the hydroxyl atoms, which will let the bad gases accumulate, possibly influencing climatic change.Humans can t really do much about the methane issue because most of it is the result of natural processes, but we can fix the landfill problem by taking out more organic trash. The less compressed trash there is, the less methane it gives off by decomposing. Natural gas wells and landfills should have a methane-collection system to trap the gas and send it to power plants to use as fuel.