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Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse Gases

Euan Nisbet

Greenhouse gases -  they’re natural. They keep us warm – they add about 33oC to the Earth’s natural surface temperature of -18oC. That should give us a nice comfortable planet averaging about 15oC on its gentle oceans and fertile continents. But then humans came along. We burned trees, and then coal, then oil and gas. We emitted  lots of Carbon dioxide. It wasn’t just CO2.  We pushed up methane, CH4 even more when we pumped gas in leaky pipes to warm our houses and make power, and we made gassy waste dumps and sewers. We kept lots of ruminant animals like cows and sheep. So we’ve been warming the planet.

Royal Holloway’s greenhouse gas lab studies all the greenhouse gases – but especially methane, which is arguably the most interesting and the easiest to bring under control as it is only in the air for roughly a decade before it is destroyed by natural reactions.

We led the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s Project MOYA - The Global Methane budget, a consortium of 14 institutions including universities and also the British Antarctic Survey and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, looking at methane all over the world but especially in tropical Africa (Upper Congo basin) and Amazonia. We also maintain long-term measurement in the high Arctic (Spitsbergen) and the equatorial Atlantic (Ascension).

Here in London, we have one of the world’s longest urban records of greenhouse gases and we are mapping leaks and cows and landfills all over the UK with our mobile laboratory.  It’s not just methane  – we measure CO2, CO, N2O and H2 (did you know hydrogen is an indirect greenhouse gas and affects air pollution?) as well as methane: all part of the gasbusters’ job.







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