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Satellite data study examines methane levels over UAE

June 21, 2023

Researchers say reported increase in concentrations may be due to prevailing winds and human activity


Concentrations of methane are increasing over the UAE, a new study has revealed.


Levels are high in coastal areas, where there are landfill sites and sabkha habitats – mud flat or salt flat areas – both of which are key sources of the gas.


Inland, concentrations are high around the Hajar Mountains, where methane is thought to be emitted by farms and microorganisms that live in wadis.


The researchers at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi behind the new study in Frontiers in Environmental Science used satellite data to calculate concentrations of the gas – which has the chemical formula CH4 – over the past few years.


They found that “column values” of methane, known as XCH4, were increasing by around nine parts per billion per year.

This was double the increase recorded over two other locations – the Arctic and Argentina – for which similar work has been carried out using satellite data.


Increasing population

Dr Diana Francis, an assistant professor in the earth sciences department at Khalifa University and the first author of the study, said that the increases in concentration were probably mostly the result of human activity “related to population growth and economic development in the region and globally”.


“Landfill sites and industrial sites in general are the most significant contributors to anthropogenic emissions and, therefore, they are the key sources to focus on when it comes to strategies towards net-zero targets,” she said.

A large proportion of the methane over the UAE may come, she said, from countries to the north, given that the prevailing winds are north-westerlies.


Methane is described as being 86 times more potent than CO2 at warming the Earth’s atmosphere over a two-decade period.


While CO2 retains its warming capacity for about 200 years, methane only remains for around nine to 12 years. As a result, measures to cut methane emissions can have a major effect on limiting temperature rises in a relatively short period.


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