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back to article Cow FLATULENCE, gas emissions MUCH WORSE than thought - boffins

A new study has revealed that the amount of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent but far less prevalent than CO2 – released into the US atmosphere is significantly higher than previously thought. "We find greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and fossil fuel extraction and processing (i.e., oil and/or natural gas …

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Carbon dioxide, 0.04% of the earth's atmosphere.

Methane, 0.00017%.

There is no way that these two "greenhouse gases" would be able to warm the earth.

Yes, the climate is changing, but it has nothing to do with those two gases

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Anonymous Coward

Ok, by the same logic, you'll be quite prepared to take 0.04% of your body mass in Sarin, because it couldn't have any effect?

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Silver badge

Ozone, 0.000007%

There is no way that this "gas" (i dispute thee!) would be able to shield the Earth from UV.

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Anonymous Coward

Higher CO2 means more rays are reflected back, but only up to a certain level where it reaches maximum. Same for ozone, which does not take a lot to reflect harmful rays.

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Bonehead

You are using brilliant logic there yourself. Comparing 0.04% of the entire earths atmosphere with CO2 to 0.04% of a human body with a deadly toxin. With that kind of logic, I can see why you would buy into Man Made Climate Change.

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More importantly, even though CO2 concentration has increased the temperatures have been stagnant for the last 17 years (according to the IPCC). So how big an effect does CO2 have on the earth's climate????

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CO2 has the structure o, O-C-O which make it very good at rëemitting certain infrared (IR) frequencies. Methane (CH4) has a different structure that makes it very good at sending IR heat back to Earth at frequencies different then CO2. It is because no other atmospheric gasses, except some CFC's, transmit in those frequencies that make CH4 such a strong "greenhouse gas." Picture it this way, take a piece of glass 2 cm thick that is invisible to IR and then coat one side with a fume of shiny gold a few atoms thick —they do such for high-rise buildings—. and see how 98% of the IR is reflected. The gold on the glass would be only a few 10 millionths of the glass, but the glass does not react to that wavelength and gold does. Because of that CH4 is much, much stronger then CO2 and CO2 is much much stronger then the IR transparent nitrogen. Side note, the sky is blue because nitrogen is effected by high frequencies.; if it were mostly CO2 it would be brownish-red. I could show how the basic physics work in less then six hours, which is too long for here. Please read up on it, It really quite interesting. Uni of Chicago has some free online lecture on this.

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Joke

Thanks for those facts. Please don't forget the link to your peer reviewed research in future, I'll take this on merit for now as those are really small percentages.

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Ah, so you're an expert, are you?

People with Ph.D.s in atmospheric chemistry disagree with you, overwhelmingly. Let me think a moment, whom should I believe....?

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Go

Good work

I think we need both the bottom up and the top down approach on occasions.

Note these revise the figures but not necessarily the model for how those gases are produced it may have limited use.

Changing those levels of release, given the power lobbies of both industries, is another matter...

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Re: Good work

...just capture the methane and sell it.

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Holmes

Bottom up approach

To measuring methane emission?

I saw what you did there...

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Re: Bottom up approach

I saw that too, but cows belch methane. Very little come out the back-end.

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Bovine intestinal gas collectors

That's what we need! When you hook up the dairy cow to the milking machine, also hook their arsehole up to pump out the gas and burn it to provide power for the farm!

I know they also belch out methane, but I can't imagine it's very easy to collect that while they, you know, eat.

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Reality Denier Gas Collectors

I'm sure we can MacGyver something out of the climate change / reality deniers' tin hats that would not only capture all that hot but also cut the volume of their delusional nonsense

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I find it hard to believe that the amount of cow methane can be measured with any accuracy. It sounds like little more than an alarmist theory. I suppose someone will ask farmers to add pilot lights to both ends of the poor cow to burn off the offending methane. Then someone else will decide that cows blowing fire are dangerous and make the farmers paint them with warnings to the public to stay back 50 feet. Of course these cows will be blamed for countless prairie and barn fires and there's the smoke problem and the ASPCA will certainly gripe about the occasional exploding cow. It will turn into such a complicated mess. So, I think maybe I'll just tolerate the cows farting and belching for now.

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My idea is the genetically engineer the cow out of the process. We just have to splice the gene for converting grass to milk into the grass and fire the cows. Graminacae mammalari would undertake the whole process in one organism.

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FAIL

Define accuracy

Did you see the error bars on part of that article? 4.9 +/- 2.6 so an error margin of around 50% then.

That gives me great confidence in this research.

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"My idea is the genetically engineer the cow out of the process. We just have to splice the gene for converting grass to milk into the grass and fire the cows. Graminacae mammalari would undertake the whole process in one organism"

Unnecessary

IIRC there is a fairly simple supplement to the diet that will cut Methane release in cows. I think its part of why some pasture is bad for cow farts and some is not.

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@snerdguy: Really, it's hard to believe that the methane emissions can be measured accurately? There's some ways that jump to my mind:

1) Determine mass of fodder converted to fumes (water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane), an easy enough process: monitor mass of fodder fed to an experimental group of cows; monitor the mass of the cows; monitor the mass of the solids and liquids coming out. The difference is lost as gas. Then rig a gas sampling system near the cow's mouth and ass and compare cow fumes to ambient air. Apply the resulting percentages to the mass of cow gas. You'll get your methane estimate from it. This technique is easiest when you have plentiful biology interns and shovels available.

2) Bigger budget biologists can take a more controlled environment approach: shove a cow and fodder into a sealed, climate-controlled room and rigorously track important masses and atmospheric composition. If you know the atmospheric mass and composition over time, it should be quite easy to figure out cow methane emissions. (Almost none when the experiment began; cow eats X pounds of fodder; room has Y pounds of methane Z hours later.) Quite likely you'd be able to peg methane productions to fodder consumption rates and then apply those ratios to cows "in the wild," as it were. Obviously, you'd want to rinse and repeat this experiment with a bunch of cows and different fodders, since there's not going to be a one-size fits all answer from a single combination of variables.

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So in 100 years

Any aliens visiting Earth will be saying "Blimey, it was farts that killed them!". Not the greatest epitaph.

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Serious question

Why is the answer to our problems always "worse than we thought"? And why is the answer always "stop your way of life" or "pay us more money"?

I will begin to believe in catastrophic anthropogenic climate change when (1) the scientists and individuals promoting this live the life they tell me I have to live; lead by example, (2) the scientists promoting this engage in an open, honest debate with a scientist who does not agree with them, (3) the scientists promoting this always make their raw, unaltered data available as required by the scientific method, and (4) the individuals promoting this stop using derogatory and insulting terms like "holocaust denier" and "flat earther" and "Big Oil funded" and "Koch funded" and so on.

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You have my vote, sir.

The real problem is that the ACC apologists have understood that, in order to get funding, they had to drum up interest, and they decided to use the good old partisan wars paradigm to do so.

So, while I have no doubt that real scientists are doing actual work together to find out what the situation really is, there is all this smoke and noise distracting us from the real issues.

And since anyone call call himself a scientist, and the Internet is the ideal disinformation breeding ground, we have hysterical zealots on both sides that would be ready and willing to in clude beheadings for anyone that disagreed with them.

I will come back to this page in 20 years, and check how much snow I have on my lawn in February, then again in July. Then I'll re-read these kind of comments with either quiet commiseration or sad approval.

But right now, we just don't KNOW.

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Childcatcher

Re: Serious question

And why is the answer always ... "pay us more money"?

How very Zen! The answer is found within the question.

I would very much appreciate a study that compares the amount of methane emitted by all of the animals that have been hunted to extinction or had their numbers drastically reduced (e.g. bison, whales) with those that have increased in population due to human activity (to include indirect effect such as whitetail deer increases due to predator elimination).

There is always more to the issue than a single, simple study will be able to take into account (I am being generous here) and there will always be ways to twist the message based on any new data to back up a given political agenda.

It is clear that humans are capable of changing climate for entire regions and, indeed, the world. History provides us with plenty of examples of this. People in my country who would quibble with this statement are invited to do a little research on the dust bowl. More challenging than altering the world is getting us to agree on which direction we should take it when we do. Perhaps a better question than, "Are we causing things to change?" would be, "How do we want things to end up?"

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Blowing smoke

> So, while I have no doubt that real scientists are doing actual work together to find out what the situation really is, there is all this smoke and noise distracting us from the real issues.

Says one of the smokers...

There already are many, many scientists, doing real, hard, detailed work. But they haven't come up with the answer you want (something that allows you to continue to behave as you are), so you pretend there's another answer to be found. Well, there isn't. Wishful thinking has no place in the scientific method.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Serious question

You'll believe in it when kiddies on the internet stop calling you names? Very rational...

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Re: Serious question

Ever heard of evolution, Mr Serious. We got here by exploiting our environments better than than competing individuals, tribes, and species. That's how we are "designed" by evolution to work. Exploiting the environment feels good and natural. That is not really in dispute. Along the way numerous organisms starved, succumbed to disease, were killed by competitors, and, were eaten by predators. Living this way is pretty natural, it doesn't require a big brain. Game theory says that in a variable environment you have more offspring than the environment will support, just in case. The remainder die. Evolution uses death lavishly. If you want to be part of this system, you can, but the odds are you wouldn't last a week. But no one actually wants to live like this. We choose security and creature comforts.

Somewhere along the way, the strategy of cooperation developed. This meant less stress since you weren't relentlessly competing with everyone, you had a few buddies to hang out with. It also meant that you could achieve new levels of exploitation by acting in groups. Humans are startlingly good at this cooperation thing compared to any other species, except perhaps some social insects (who don't have the smarts we do.)

The industrial revolution bumped up our ability to exploit the environment by several orders of magnitude again. in fact, to the extent where we can trash the planet, either now or soon, and we are actually are doing this just by being the type of organisms that evolution made us. Just because you are biologically designed to feel like successful exploitation feels good, doesn't mean it will continue to work. Things have changed from when you were genetically constructed. We are not programmed to restrain our exploitation, this function was provided by the environment, in the form of death and suffering when local limits were reached.

You don't need any funny moral stories about the Koch brothers to get this. This is pretty basic science.

Right now, we have the choice: go with what biology gave you and reap the result, or take a more enlightened approach, limit your children, be smart with resource usage, preserve the planets biological systems. It's not that hard, it just requires a little thought, and renouncing a bit of your biological programming. Personally, I'm not 100% sure that humans are up to it, but as far as I can see it's certainly possible.

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Unhappy

Re: Serious question

"Why is the answer to our problems always "worse than we thought"? And why is the answer always "stop your way of life" or "pay us more money"?"

You would make a very good point except for one thing.

You're wrong.

As a check over El Reg's climate change stories would show you.

But please, rant on. Your point about vested interested is valid.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Serious question

"Most of my house, right now, is at 2º c"

This is the sort of thing that people think makes them more energy efficient. It doesn't.

The energy consumed in heating is driven by the size of the temperature difference that you need to overcome to get the space to a habitable temperature. If you're letting it drop to 2 degrees, you have a very large energy consumption associated with getting it up to temperature later. Once you have a space heated, the most efficient way to manage your heating is to reduce heat losses to an absolute minimum (i.e. insulate and keep the doors shut) so that it retains most of the heat when its not occupied and you only need to heat it by a few degrees next time you go in there.

Also, if you're only heating the rooms you're using, then you'll suffer massive heat losses through the internal walls as these aren't typically insulated as your external walls are. You therefore end up using a lot more energy to keep the rooms you're using heated as they'll be bleeding heat into the surrounding spaces that you've left cold.

"I may not the lowest in carbon emissions"

Indeed, you're not... Probably far from it, if basic thermodynamic principles can be believed!

One little tip to help your home retain heat when you're out, and thus reduce the amount of energy required to get it back up to temperature when you get home, is to leave all your curtains shut - windows are typically one of the biggest sources of heat loss, so this gives you an extra layer of insulation.

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Re: Serious question

The energy consumed in heating is driven by the size of the temperature difference that you need to overcome to get the space to a habitable temperature

Plus, as you noted, the energy loss during the time the inside temperature is higher than outside. So, you have to calculate energy loss from keeping rooms heated when not in use, and compare that to the energy needed to get those rooms back to the desired temperature when required; don't forget to include increased loss from adjacent rooms. Only then can you decide whether it's more efficient to keep them heated, unheated, or merely at a lowered temperature.

40% of my house is currently unheated, and will never be heated because there is no need for it to be habitable, which is not to say that it isn't usable.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Serious question

"Plus, as you noted, the energy loss during the time the inside temperature is higher than outside. So, you have to calculate energy loss from keeping rooms heated when not in use, and compare that to the energy needed to get those rooms back to the desired temperature when required; don't forget to include increased loss from adjacent rooms. Only then can you decide whether it's more efficient to keep them heated, unheated, or merely at a lowered temperature."

Indeed... there are huge rafts of complicated calculations that you can go into to work out exactly what (in theory) is the most efficient way to control your heating system.

"40% of my house is currently unheated, and will never be heated because there is no need for it to be habitable, which is not to say that it isn't usable."

Just bear in mind that heating is not only about making a room habitable - it also protects the contents of the room from potential problems with issues like condensation. If warm humid air from other areas of the house finds its way into an unheated space, it has a nasty habit of depositing its moisture across the first cold surface it comes into contact with.

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Re: Serious question

'm using 500 Watts of heat plus another 500 in other appliances. I use no AC in summer. My windows in the heated portion are argon filled and coated. I would think that is not too bad for a 460 M^2 (5000 2^foot) house when it''s -5º C outside, in a 1899 house.

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Pint

Meanwhile, North Dakota is lit up by gas flares

Everyone worries about 'Fracking' for various silly and/or local reasons, but nobody mandates that there must be a Natural Gas pipeline to put all the gaseous byproduct to good and useful use, as opposed to evil flaring it off.

Stupid humans.

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Coat

FIVE STOMACHS....

...so i guess this is just a MooOOOOOOT point?

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Anonymous Coward

meanwhile...

I was intrigued to see that the purpose of a recent satellite launch was to investigate the 15% reduction in the strength of the Earth's magnetic field over the last 200 years. As I'm not a geophysicist I expect I'm wrong in thinking that this sounds like a non-trivial change that might have had knock-on effects elsewhere, but I am left wondering why its not been mentioned by any of the future worriers.

( I'm also wondering at what point this ongoing reduction will become serious )

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Anonymous Coward

Re: meanwhile...

Can you pretty please post the link of the satellite launch you're talking about? I want to read about this thing.

I'm pretty sure we want to keep a pretty close eye on anything that affects Earth's magnetic field right? Sol's always trying to kill us with sheet, isn't the field the thing that protects us from all those crazy solar and interstellar raaaaays?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: meanwhile...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-25028502

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Anonymous Coward

Re: meanwhile...

I should add a reminder to be even more careful than usual about sources when looking at this (yes, I know, I'm quoting the BBC... ) - magnetism seems to attract the strange.

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if only...

There are lots of cows on the planet. Seems to me there are far more PEOPLE - many of whom consume some level of vegetarian (i.e. methane producing) diet. The volume of an individual bovine belch or fart is greater than individual human output of the same sort. However, the TOTAL volume is probably higher for humans simply because there are more of us than them. Has any reputable* study attempted to factor that in? I've not seen one but would be interested to do so if someone could provide a link or three.

My own theory** is that the combined methane output of both humans AND animals, while significant, is dwarfed by that from various industry and nature/weather. Fracking, refining, landfill decomposition, combustion, and volcanic activity, just to name a few of the bigger categories.

I'm not saying these things are inherently evil. What I AM saying is if methane is problematic, let's identify AND QUANTIFY ALL sources and then RATIONALLY discuss mitigation - without the politically charged hyperbole. Sadly, that last bit will be hardest to achieve. The fervent zealots on BOTH ends of this must be sidelined and told to hold their tongues while more reasonable people identify the real problem(s) and sources of same, in order to craft the BEST solutions that balance the needs of the various interested parties. Only in that way can the problem be solved without reverting to extremist views. "Pre-industrial lifestyle or we all die!!!1!!" is just as counterproductive as "There is no problem here, move along."

* open access, open debate, peer-reviewed, etc.

** I am not a scientist. Just an interested observer willing to consider any reasonable possibility.

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Re: if only...

Personally, I blame the consumption of Hot Pockets™ in the US and bratwurst in Germany.

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Bullshit!

Plop, plop! Phizz, phttt! Oh what a lie it is!

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More hockey stick BS. No pun intended.

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Headmaster

Significant digits?

It's been too long since I took advanced statistics, so if someone with more recent knowledge could enlighten me I'd be appreciative.

How is 4.9 ± 2.6 meaningful? Offering a value to the nearest tenth when uncertainty is ~30 times higher is warped. Shouldn't it be 5 ± 3?

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Re: Significant digits?

No, 5 ± 3 is less accurate. Best guess is 4.9 with an uncertainty of 2.6. Even though it's unlikely actually to be 4.9 this is still the most likely figure. Think of a "bell" probability curve: In this case, it is centered on 4.9 not on 5. The spread of the curve is given by the ± 2.6 bit. It's not a spread of 3, it is 2.6.

If you wanted a rough intuitive figure, 5 ± 3 would be ok. More accurate is 4.9 ± 2.6. This is more likely to be correct. It may be possible to go even further to describe the probability curve shape even further, not just mean and standard deviation (spread), but also skew (asymmetry), kurtosis ("peakedness"), and so on, if your data is good enough.

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Buy stock in Beano

Give each cow a Beano pill 3 times a day....that will fix it.

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Chick-Fil-A is gonna love this...

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Anonymous Coward

now I feel guilty when I expel gas.

I wonder what it is like to be a Congressman or a FOX News commentator?

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WTF?

Imaginary atmospheric methane?

<i>"We find greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and <b>fossil fuel extraction</b> and processing (i.e., oil and/or <b>natural gas</b>) are likely a factor of two or greater than cited in existing studies," ...</i>

But the extracted methane (aka natural gas) can be burned, and is also often used (in the US) as a cheap feedstock for making plastics, fertilizer, etc.

So if the extracted natural gas is never meant to be released into the atmosphere as free methane, why would they count it as methane (greenhouse gas) emissions?

Besides that it makes this alarming news that requires more grant money for further research, of course.

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Unhappy

Re: Imaginary atmospheric methane?

"So if the extracted natural gas is never meant to be released into the atmosphere as free methane, why would they count it as methane (greenhouse gas) emissions?"

Perhaps because there is a difference between meant and does

The stuff you burn in stoves and furnaces only smells because it has Mercaptan in it. Actual Metahne can leak without being noticed.

And fixing leaks in oil refineries and plastics plants costs money

When you're dealing with ppm concentrations a "small," as in too-expensive-to-fix leak is all you need to damage the environment.

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