Surprise effect: Methane cools even as it heats, say researchers

Posted: March 27, 2023 by oldbrew in atmosphere, climate, Clouds, modelling, physics, research
Tags: ,


If the headline seems puzzling, try the article that follows it. We’re taken back to the imaginary world of atmospheric ‘blankets’, forgetting to mention that the methane content of our air is less than 2000 parts per *billion* (= 2 per million).
– – –
Most climate models do not yet account for a new UC Riverside discovery: methane traps a great deal of heat in Earth’s atmosphere, but also creates cooling clouds that offset 30% of the heat, says

Greenhouse gases like methane create a kind of blanket in the atmosphere, trapping heat from Earth’s surface, called longwave energy, and preventing it from radiating out into space. This makes the planet hotter. [Talkshop comment – according to what empirical evidence?]

“A blanket doesn’t create heat, unless it’s electric. You feel warm because the blanket inhibits your body’s ability to send its heat into the air. This is the same concept,” explained Robert Allen, UCR assistant professor of Earth sciences.

In addition to absorbing longwave energy, it turns out methane also absorbs incoming energy from the sun, known as shortwave energy. “This should warm the planet,” said Allen, who led the research project. “But counterintuitively, the shortwave absorption encourages changes in clouds that have a slight cooling effect.”

This effect is detailed in the journal Nature Geoscience, alongside a second finding that the research team did not fully expect. Though methane generally increases the amount of precipitation, accounting for the absorption of shortwave energy suppresses that increase by 60%.

Both types of energy—longwave (from Earth) and shortwave (from sun)—escape from the atmosphere more than they are absorbed into it. The atmosphere needs compensation for the escaped energy, which it gets from heat created as water vapor condenses into rain, snow, sleet, or hail.

“Essentially, precipitation acts as a heat source, making sure the atmosphere maintains a balance of energy,” said study co-author Ryan Kramer, a researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Methane changes this equation. By holding on to energy from the sun, methane is introducing heat the atmosphere no longer needs to get from precipitation.

Additionally, methane shortwave absorption decreases the amount of solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface. This in turn reduces the amount of water that evaporates. Generally, precipitation and evaporation are equal, so a decrease in evaporation leads to a decrease in precipitation.

“This has implications for understanding in more detail how methane and perhaps other greenhouses gases can impact the climate system,” Allen said. “Shortwave absorption softens the overall warming and rain-increasing effects but does not eradicate them at all.”

Full article here.

  1. ivan says:

    Do these ‘scientists’ actually know what they are talking about? Have they actually got out of their office and actually measured anything? Until they do that it is only more computer games – sorry models.

  2. catweazle666 says:

    Here you go, Ivan!

    “The research team discovered these findings by creating detailed computer models simulating both longwave and shortwave methane effects.”

    Heh, “discovered”…

    Turtles all the way down.

  3. oldbrew says:

    Anyone want a blanket covering 2 parts per million of the bed?

  4. JB says:

    Aaarrgh! Not the bride for sure…

  5. oldbrew says:

    Robert J. Allen et al, Surface warming and wetting due to methane’s long-wave radiative effects muted by short-wave absorption, Nature Geoscience (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41561-023-01144-z

    Muted, or cancelled out?

  6. stpaulchuck says:

    more Play Station “science”… meh

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