NASA has confirmed that a methane cloud the size of Delaware is situated over the Four Corners area of the U.S. southwest. Initially, the readings were suspected to be a glitch in the system because the levels were so high, however, NASA scientists have confirmed that the methane hot spot is real.
Christian Frankenberg, a research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, CA, said. “We didn’t focus on it because we weren’t sure if it was a true signal or an instrument error.” However, according to new satellite research from scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan this “hot spot” is real and “responsible for producing the largest concentration of the greenhouse gas methane seen over the United States—more than triple the standard ground-based estimate.”
The cloud, which is 2,500 square miles in size is over the region where the borders of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. Methane is more potent than carbon dioxide for trapping greenhouse gases—it’s about 80 percent more efficient at trapping heat than CO2 and is a major contributor to climate change. The cloud hovering over the region traps more heat in a year than all of the annual carbon dioxide emissions of Sweden.
The study was published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters and reports that 0.59 metric tons of methane released annually from 2003-2009 was 3.5 times higher than previous estimates.
Eric Kort, professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and lead author of the study, cites coal mining activity in the San Juan Basin as the likely suspect and called the Basin “the most active coalbed methane production area in the country.”
There has been a sharp rise in fracking activity in the region, but the cloud predates that activity, leading both Kort and Frankenberg to conclude that the coal mining activity is the main culprit.
Kort said, “The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried. There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole.”