Scientists might have underestimated the contribution of cows and other animals in Methane emission in the atmosphere and its overall impact on Global warming, suggests a new study published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management.

Methane is more effective in trapping the heat

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is considered the primary cause for global warming, but scientists reveal that methane is actually much more powerful than CO2 in terms of trapping the heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Methane, also known as marsh gas, is emitted by both natural and man-made sources.

It is naturally formed during the process of digestion in animals and during decomposition of organic wastes in wetlands and marshy areas. This gas is also released in the atmosphere through thermogenic sources such as during oil and gas production.

Link between farm animals and global warming

In this study, researcher explored the potential link between farm animals and global warming. Julie Wolf, a plant physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and colleagues examined the methane emission estimates of the 2006 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report. The estimates given in this report were based on the rates of methane emission increases between 2000 and 2006.

Researchers observed that this older data was inaccurate as it did not take into account variables such as animal and land use.

The team re-calculated the levels of methane emissions and found that livestock methane emissions for 2011 were actually 11 percent higher than the estimates based on the figures provided by IPCC 2006 report.

Changes in livestock management

According to Julie Wolf, livestock numbers have greatly increased in many parts of the world. Moreover, the size of livestock animals has also increased over the years, thanks to new breeding techniques. These bigger-size animals eat more food and thereby release more methane in the environment.

The researchers also found that the amount of methane produced when animals pass gas is actually higher than earlier estimates.

Wolf hopes that the finding of this study will encourage other scientists to come up with more detailed research on the impact of livestock methane emissions on global warming.

This study was sponsored by NASA’s Carbon Monitoring System research initiative. The detailed findings of the study were published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management.