Colorado State

Methane’s greenhouse contribution is second only to that of carbon dioxide. Even though it is

present in far lower concentrations than carbon dioxide, methane is about 22 times more

effective at trapping heat than an equal amount of carbon dioxide. Decomposition of landfill

wastes, coal mining, digestive gases from domestic animals, and the burning of fossil fuels all

release methane gases into the atmosphere.

Glossy molecule of Methane Glossy molecule structure of methane - Isolated on white background Methane Stock Photo



Atmospheric concentrations of methane have

increased 246 percent from an estimated preindustrial level of 700 ppb to a 1998 level of 1,720

ppb (ARM 2000, 1). There are enormous quantities of methane gases trapped in icelike

structures called clathrates both in the frozen arctic tundra and in the icy depths of the deep




These clathrates contain 3,000 times more methane than the atmosphere. If much of the

arctic’s permafrost melts and releases its trapped methane into the atmosphere, this alone will be

enough to cause global climate changes of a proportion that will dwarf current projections.

Unfortunately, some scientists believe that just a few degrees warming of the deep oceans could

be enough to release the deep-ocean clathrates in a catastrophic “methane burp” with the

potential to seriously threaten life on Earth. There is strong geologic evidence that this has

already happened twice in the history of planet Earth, causing rapid warming and massive

extinctions and die-off, disrupting the climate for more than 100,000 years (Atcheson 2004).