Methane Emissions Soared to a Record in 2021, Scientists Say

Levels of methane in the atmosphere increased last year by the largest amount since measurements began four decades ago, government scientists said on Thursday, adding to concerns about the planet-warming gas, which spews from oil and natural gas operations.

Methane is less abundant in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, but it is more potent in its near-term effects on global warming. Large amounts of methane pour into the air from wells and pipelines, sometimes through unintentional leaks. Other sources include livestock, landfills and decaying organic matter in wetlands.

Atmospheric concentrations of methane have increased steadily over the past decade, and in 2021, they rose by a record amount over the year before, reaching a new high, according to analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The previous record for annual increase in methane levels had been set in 2020.

“Our data show that global emissions continue to move in the wrong direction at a rapid pace,” said Rick Spinrad, the NOAA administrator. “Reducing methane emissions is an important tool we can use right now to lessen the impacts of climate change in the near term, and rapidly reduce the rate of warming.”

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