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Greenhouse Gases

Atmospheric levels of methane post a record rise in 2021

by Cheryl Hogue
April 16, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 13


Natural gas pipeline above grassy area with trees in the background.
Credit: Shutterstock
Leaks from natural gas pipelines such as this one are significant contributers to rising methane levels in the atmosphere.

Atmospheric levels of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, made a record jump in 2021, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports. Concentrations of methane rose 17 ppb over the course of 2021, surpassing 2020’s record-setting increase of 15.3 ppb. Atmospheric methane levels averaged 1,895.7 ppb last year, according to NOAA. Scientists are concerned about the rise in CH4 because of its short-term global warming impacts. Methane is about 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere, although its estimated atmospheric half-life is about 9 years, compared with CO2’s 100 years. Fossil fuel production and use account for about 30% of global methane emissions, NOAA says. Other key sources are livestock and paddy rice production, landfills, fires, and natural wetlands. In addition, atmospheric CO2 increased 2.66 ppm from 2020 to 2021, reaching 414.7 ppm, NOAA says. “Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad says in a statement.


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