The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite showed that the greatest methane emissions are from the tundra in Canada and Russia, and the tropics – especially the Amazonian, Central African and Indonesian wetlands. Smaller emissions were from tropical South America, north-western America, China, west Africa, Antarctica, and Cape York.
No significant emissions were detected from the large coalfields of Europe, Canada, America, Botswana, South Africa, and Australia.
Nor were major emissions detected from the beef-growing areas of South America, South Africa, America, and Australia.
Termite-infested areas of northern Australia and our farmlands, rice-growing areas, major dams, and oil and gas fields were not pinpointed. The 2020 measurements were at a time of reduced industrial activity yet showed the largest increase in methane emissions since the 1980s.
What’s going on?
Heavy rains in central Africa in 2020, especially in South Sudan and Uganda, may be one of the smoking guns. Water releases from Lake Victoria increased flow into the White Nile which feeds the Ugandan and South Sudan wetlands. The Sudd wetlands contributed over 25 per cent of the growth in global methane emissions. There were also significant increases in natural methane emissions from eastern Canada in 2020 where there are a large number of lakes and wetlands.
In the tundra, soils comprise glacial debris overlain by peat bogs. The bacterially-assisted decomposition of vegetation into carbonaceous debris and peat releases methane which commonly self-ignites, as recorded by Shakespeare. Caliban’s reference to the scary will-o’-the-wisp in bogs, swamps, and marshes in The Tempest was a reference to the spontaneous ignition of methane-air mixtures.
Most landmasses are draped with sedimentary rocks that contain entrapped methane which leaks into the atmosphere, especially from carbon-rich organic sedimentary rocks. Methane is trapped in coal and is released by natural fracking, up drill holes that tap coal seam gas, and by rock depressurising during mining. Good underground ventilation, smoking bans underground, and a ban on using machinery that could produce sparks is normal procedure in Western coal mines.
If air contains 5-15 per cent methane, it is highly explosive and can self-ignite, especially if mixed with coal dust and carbon monoxide. Since the 1880s, more than 400 men have died underground from explosions in Australian coal mines. The largest was at Bulli (NSW) in 1887 (81 men). At Mt Mulligan (Qld) in 1921, the loss of 75 miners in an underground explosion killed three generations of men resulting in the permanent closure of the town and mine. Every family at Mt Mulligan lost a breadwinner.
The combination of the Indian Ocean Dipole, La Niña, and volcanic ash high in the atmosphere probably were the major contributors to heavy rain in much of Australia in 2022. This rain also increased natural methane emissions due to accelerated plant debris decomposition. The past shows us that after heavy rains in eastern Australia, the undergrowth in eucalypt forests grows rapidly. When followed by hot dry windy weather, forests become incendiary bombs. This is known by arsonists who ignite some 75 per cent of all grass and forest fires.
Recently I was in Leura in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Huge rains in 1955-1956 built up the forest fuel load and were followed by massive bushfires in 1957. Vacant blocks, lonely chimneys, and burnt-out relics remain today in Leura to remind us of these catastrophic bushfires. Massive bushfires will be repeated after the 2022 heavy rains because of the inability to learn from history. Of course, the next inevitable catastrophic fires in eastern Australia will be claimed as unprecedented and blamed on Climate Change rather than on ideological neglectful forest maintenance.
It was the same 1955-1956 rains that flooded towns on the flood plains along the Murray, Darling, Murrumbidgee, Hunter, Manning, Hastings, Clarence, Richmond, Wilson, and Brisbane Rivers. Flood plains have fertile sediment that has accumulated from thousands of large floods over millions of years and, for millennia, were the perfect place for agriculture and settlement. Maybe, before Climate Change is blamed for floods in 2022, the history of flooding of the great rivers such as the Nile and Ganges where humans have lived and recorded flood history over thousands of years should be studied. Sometimes there is too much rain, other times there is not enough. Modern floods, droughts, and bushfires are certainly not unprecedented.
Humans have grazed cattle on flood plains since the first domestication of docile animals during an exceptionally cold period 12,900-11,700 years ago. Cattle emit methane and, if a carbon balance calculation is performed, cattle are already at Net Zero. The increasing attacks on the farming industry are yet another attempt by the Greens to stop productive industry. Bacteria comprise the largest biomass on Earth and emit more methane than any other life form hence the Greens should focus on reducing bacterial methane emissions. Don’t wait up.
The first time it rained on planet Earth was unprecedented.
Running surface waters 3.8 billion years ago at Isua (Greenland) left the oldest preserved gravels in the world which, when dissolved in acid, yield a carbon-rich residue with the chemical fingerprint of bacterial life that lived in a world without oxygen gas. At that time, the Earth’s atmosphere was rich in methane, carbon dioxide, and ammonia. On Earth since that time, water and life have always been hand-in-hand. Mars had water before Earth and lost most its water and atmosphere with the loss of the Martian magnetic field. Water-bearing minerals and water-worn structures are on Mars and it is only a matter of time before fossil and even modern bacteria are discovered in its rusted rocks.
Climate change cannot be understood using computer models that attempt to predict the future with incomplete information and invalid assumptions. The past is the key to the present and destruction of history, archaeology, and geology in the climate wars can only lead to hardship.
Emeritus Professor Ian Plimer’s latest book Green Murder (Connor Court Publishing) was written assisted by fluids from which carbon dioxide was emitted during fermentation.