December 9, 2022


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What is the magnitude of the climate impact of gas emissions in the Baltic Sea?  A researcher warns against speculation in the use of numbers.

What is the magnitude of the climate impact of gas emissions in the Baltic Sea? A researcher warns against speculation in the use of numbers.

Danish authorities estimate that up to 778 million cubic meters of gas may leak from damaged pipes. Scientists argue about how dangerous this is to the climate.

In a worst-case scenario, 778 million cubic meters of gas could leak after supposed sabotage against Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines outside of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. It’s reports Danish Energy Agency.

The estimate has been significantly revised upwards from previous calculations. This release is likely to be among the largest single emissions of gas ever caused by man.

The gas in the pipes consists mainly of methane. If all the gas leaked out, the impact on the climate would correspond to emissions of 14.3 million tons of carbon dioxide, according to the Danish Energy Agency.

However, what are the correct numbers to use when calculating the impact of climate is disputed by the professional community. Figures from the Danish authorities show the significant climate impact of emissions from a 100-year perspective.

But Greenpeace and researchers at Aarhus University believe it is more correct to calculate the climate impact that emissions will have in the next 20 years. Then the number will be completely different: emissions will have an impact equivalent to 45 million tons of carbon dioxide.

By comparison, Norway emits about 50 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

20 or 100 years?

On Thursday, Aftenposten reissued an earlier version of Greenpeace’s accounts based on the highest numbers. Climate researcher Bjorn Samsett in Cicero thinks the use of the numbers is speculative. We will come back to that.

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But first: why is there such a big gap in numbers?

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It warms the globe more than carbon dioxide, but in return it decomposes faster in the atmosphere. In other words, it has a greater impact on climate in the short term, but less in the long term.

Thus, the difference in numbers depends on the type of time horizon you are dependent on.

Researcher Jorm Braun-Larsen from Aarhus University says in a review of the facts Danish Radio He believes that it is more correct to use the largest number. This is because greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced within a short period of time if the temperature does not rise much. Greenpeace thinks so.

He notes that methane is “only” 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide after 100 years, while after 20 years it becomes 84 times stronger.

Unfortunately, over the next 10 to 20 years, we risk crossing a number of tipping points with rising temperatures that could cause climate change outbreaks to have a number of self-reinforcing effects, says leader Mads Flarob Christensen at Greenpeace Nordics.

He says it is therefore appropriate to look at the impact of gas in a 20-year perspective, which the United Nations Climate Panel has also done in its recent reports. He adds that official climate accounts still account for the impact of all greenhouse gases in a 100-year perspective.

There is no doubt that the discharge is significant. But experts disagree about how dangerous this is to the climate.

Estimated results

Bjørn Samset of Cicero believes that Greenpeace’s calculations give an incorrect picture. The individual emission of methane is believed to have less impact on the climate than has been shown now.

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The background is the transformation system they used.

– These are incredibly complex calculations. And if you calculate the impact over 20 years in this case, it will be wrong. The numbers are biased and the results are speculative.

Samset previously co-published the reports as part of the United Nations Climate Panel.

It shows that when you convert methane to CO2 equivalents the way it was done, you are using a system designed to measure continuous emissions. The single methane emissions equivalent to 45 million tons of carbon dioxide, which Greenpeace uses as an example of horror, cannot be compared to continuous emissions.

The main point is the following:

Even if the emission was massive, a single emission would not lead to significant global warming.

So he demands moderation on the issue of climate on this subject.

There are a lot of scary things about this, but it doesn’t have any particular climatic impact. If someone blew up all the existing pipelines, it would be a huge one-time launch. But even that would not have had a significant impact on global warming. It would be largely disastrous, Samst says, but not for the climate.

Methane cloud over Norway

No matter what look one chooses to emphasize, there is no doubt that it is a huge emission. The gas that forms bubbles has spread like a cloud over Norway and Sweden.

Climate scientist Stephen Platt at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) calculated emissions based on measurements made at the Perkins Observatory in Agder.

He calculated that the methane cloud in the observations indicates that 80,000 tons of methane were released in just about 24 hours. This is more than four times the annual methane emissions from the Norwegian oil and gas industry, according to NRK.

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Platt says NILU expects all the gas in the pipes to leak.

– But we must not forget that if the gas reached its target, it would have been burned and led to emissions in the form of carbon dioxide, he says.

The climate impact is much greater when the gas is released as methane, from carbon dioxide, and the emissions it may cause during combustion.