Satellites detail continued rise of atmospheric methane and CO2

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The collected data shows a steady increase in carbon dioxide and methane(Credit: IUP, Univ. Bremen/SRON/JPL/ESA/DLR)

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According to research conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA), atmospheric methane and carbon dioxide levels are continuing to rise, despite global efforts to lower emissions. The data was gathered by the European Space Agency's (ESA) long-serving Envisat probe, combined with readings from Japan's GoSat mission.

The readings show that while methane levels in the atmosphere were fairly constant up until 2007, but they've been increasingly steadily since then, at a rate of 0.3 percent per year. Similarly, global carbon dioxide levels are on the up, increasing by around 0.5 percent a year.

As to what's causing the increase – scientists are yet to fully understand exactly what's going on, but it's likely that fossil fuel emissions and agriculture are playing a big part. Seasonal fluctuations can be seen in the data, including higher methane concentrations from China and India in August and September. Those regional changes make sense, with emissions from rice paddies and wetlands known to increase under warm, humid conditions.

Carbon dioxide levels have been steadily increasing over the last 10 years, with plants only capable of taking up some 25 percent of human emissions. It's not known how the planet's vegetation will respond to the changing climate – it's something that future missions will help us understand, improving our ability to predict future climate trends.

The Sentinel-5P mission, set to launch this year, will play a big role in this, scanning global atmosphere once every day. The resulting data will allow us to more easily pick out key regional carbon dioxide and methane sources.

"For the future, Sentinel-5P will be very important, in particular because of its very dense, high-resolution observations of atmospheric methane, which have the potential to detect and quantify the emissions of important methane emissions hot spots such as oil and gas fields," said the ESA's Climate Change Initiative project leader Michael Buchwitz.

The results of the research were presented last week at the Living Planet Symposium in Prague.

Source: ESA

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