Both air pollution and global warming could be reduced by controlling emissions of methane gas, according to a new study by scientists at Harvard University, the Argonne National Laboratory, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The reason, they say, is that methane is directly linked to the production of ozone in the troposphere, the lowest part of Earths atmosphere, extending from the surface to around 12 kilometers [7 miles] altitude. Ozone is the primary constituent of smog and both methane and ozone are significant greenhouse gases.
A simulation based upon emissions projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts a longer and more intense ozone season in the United States by 2030, despite domestic emission reductions, the researchers note. Mitigation should therefore be considered on a global scale, the researchers say, and must take into account a rising global background level of ozone. Currently, the U.S. standard is based upon 84 parts per billion by volume of ozone, not to be exceeded more than three times per year, a standard that is not currently met nationwide. In Europe, the standard is much stricter, 55-65 parts of ozone per billion by volume, but these targets are also exceeded in many European countries.
Writing this month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Arlene M. Fiore and her colleagues say that one way to simultaneously decrease ozone pollution and greenhouse warming is to reduce methane emissions. Ozone is formed in the troposphere by chemical reactions involving methane, other organic compounds, and carbon monoxide, in the presence of nitrogen oxides and sunlight. Methane is known to be a major source of ozone throughout the troposphere, but is not usually considered to play a key role in the production of ozone smog in surface air, because of its long lifetime.
Harvey Leifert | EurekAlert!
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