What is methane? Methane (CH4) is a colorless, odorless, and flammable gas; it is also the main component of natural gas, the most simple of the hydrocarbons, and is commercially used for fuel.
How do methane emissions affect us? According to the Clean Climate & Air Coalition, methane belongs to a category of greenhouse gases known as short-lived climate pollutants. Compared to longer-lived climate pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane gas remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter time period. However, it is much more potent, or more powerful, than CO2. Just how much? Even though there are fewer methane emissions, they trap up to 100 times more heat than CO2 over a five-year period.
Methane emissions come from natural sources such as wetlands and oceans, and human sources. The non-profit organization What's Your Impact reports that methane levels have more than doubled over the last 150 years due to human sources, including fossil fuel use and intensive farming.
The Environmental Defense Fund states that methane is the biggest contributor of short-term climate pollutants that have caused about one third of the warming we are now experiencing. Additional effects include droughts, crop loss, and more intense storms.
In recent news: A massive methane leak that began as early as October 2015 has now displaced thousands of families from their homes in Aliso Canyon in Southern California, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In this video: Rune Pettersen of Norway experiments with methane gas, which had been produced as a result of bacteria decomposing organic matter in the water and later trapped in this frozen lake, to build a fire and heat up a kettle of coffee. Pettersen explained on YouTube that he was using matches because his lighters were empty.
Although some viewers have speculated that the fire was fueled by oxygen, oxygen is technically not flammable on its own; it is, however, a high-energy gas that oxidizes other materials, allowing them to ignite at lower temperatures. It has been said that the kind of methane here is "fairly harmless" but as you will see, prone to explosions if lit.
To learn more about methane, including ways to reduce emissions, visit this site created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).