Another Strange Increase In The Atmosphere Due to Humans Has Been Discovered By Scientists

Another Strange Increase In The Atmosphere Due to Humans Has Been Discovered By Scientists
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Another Strange Increase In The Atmosphere Due to Humans Has Been Discovered By Scientists

Highlights

  • The amount of molecular hydrogen (H2) in the atmosphere has increased in recent years as a result of human activities.
  • They discovered that atmospheric hydrogen levels had risen by 70% throughout the twentieth century.

According to new research, the amount of molecular hydrogen (H2) in the atmosphere has increased in recent years as a result of human activities.

When scientists examined air samples contained in drilled cores of Antarctica's ice, they discovered that atmospheric hydrogen levels had risen by 70% throughout the twentieth century.

Despite recent air pollution legislation aimed at reducing fossil fuel emissions, hydrogen emissions have continued to climb and show no indications of decreasing. It's possible that leaking is to blame.

Due to the breakdown of formaldehyde, molecular hydrogen is a natural component of our environment, but it is also a result of fossil fuel combustion, particularly from automotive exhaust, and biomass combustion.

While hydrogen does not trap heat in the atmosphere on its own, it does have an indirect impact on methane and ozone distribution. These are the two most major greenhouse gases after carbon dioxide, which means that world hydrogen levels can also affect the climate.

Despite this, atmospheric hydrogen sources and sinks are rarely investigated. We don't even know how much humanity have emitted since the industrial revolution.

The new research is the first to provide a precise figure. Air samples taken at the South Pole of Antarctica show that atmospheric hydrogen increased from 330 parts per billion to 550 parts per billion between 1852 and 2003.

According to Earth scientist John Patterson of the University of California Irvine, "ageing air is held in the permanent snowpack atop an ice sheet, and studying it gives us a highly accurate record of atmospheric composition through time.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, our paleoatmospheric reconstruction of H2 levels has substantially improved our understanding of anthropogenic emissions.

The news isn't all that encouraging. It turns out that our hydrogen emissions may have been greatly underestimated.

With the adoption of catalytic converters, certain tailpipe emissions have been reduced in recent years, and we would have expected hydrogen emissions to fall or even plateau. Despite this, hydrogen levels in the atmosphere have continued to rise practically unabated.

Instead, there must be another quickly growing source counteracting our development in the vehicle sector — we just don't know what it is.

This isn't the first time a mismatch has been discovered in a dataset. Prior study has also revealed a continuous growth in hydrogen emissions between 2000 and 2015, which differs from trends in other types of pollution.

Hydrogen emissions from human-caused sources are supposed to come primarily from automotive exhaust, whereas hydrogen leakage from industrial operations is rarely studied.

Although no one has directly measured the amount of hydrogen emitted by these processes, preliminary estimates indicate that it could be significant.

According to studies, a 10% leakage rate between 1985 and 2005 would account for about half of the current increase in hydrogen emissions.

They can't be certain this is where the hydrogen comes from – hydrogen emissions from coal combustion are also little understood – but the authors think it's worth looking into more.

Especially since green hydrogen techniques, which split hydrogen from water to generate carbon-free electricity, could result in significant leaks if they are ramped up in the future, as some climate scientists and environmentalists hope.

This isn't a brand-new concern. It's a worry that scientists have been raising for years.

Experts are concerned that if hydrogen leaks from industrialised hydrogen gas plants, it would extend the lifetime of methane in our environment, a greenhouse gas 20 times more strong than carbon dioxide.

Researchers predict that even with a tiny proportion of leaks, a global hydrogen economy will have significantly less climatic impacts than our current fossil fuel-based energy system.

Scientists are now on the lookout for the secret hydrogen source that we've been missing all along.If any of it turns out to be leaking, green hydrogen's future could be jeopardised.

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