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Rolling lab tracks methane to its source

How much comes from natural gas drilling?

By Anne Danahy December 19, 2014

Zach Barkley Research Assistant at PSU

McHenry Township, Lycoming County. Equipped with a gray box, a map and an SUV, Thomas Lauvaux and a team from Penn State's Department of Meteorology has been at it for hours, taking measurements and racking up the miles.

It's one in a series of road trips across northcentral and northeastern Pennsylvania, and neighboring southern New York, aimed at figuring out how much methane is in the air and how much of it is coming from the booming natural gas industry.

"Isotopes of methane will tell us how much comes from natural gas and how much comes from other methane sources, such as cows, landfills, wetlands and natural seeps," Lauvaux explains.

The mobile measurements are one of the first steps in a three-year $1.8 million study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, a project mentioned in the March 2014 White House Climate Action Plan Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions.

While burning natural gas to generate power produces about half the carbon dioxide of burning coal, the gas extraction process comes with its own challenges, including emitting methane -- a potent greenhouse gas. "Measuring emissions of methane from a large area for a long time, and determining the source of those emissions is difficult," says Ken Davis, professor of meteorology. "But that's what we hope to accomplish with this project."


Air pollution and the ocean

Penn State researchers Raymond Najjar (2nd from left) and Douglas Martins (4th from left) retrieve a drifter from the Atlantic Ocean with the help of the  ship’s crew. Image: Bettina Sohst/Old Dominion University.Study measures impacts of nitrogen deposition on coastal waters

By Douglas Martins October 6, 2014

Scientists have a good understanding of how air pollution impacts human health and the terrestrial biosphere, but what impact does air pollution have on oceans? To help answer this question, this past August, researchers from Penn State's department of meteorology embarked on a three-week, NSF-funded field project to catch and analyze rainwater at sea.

"The atmospheric deposition of nitrogen to coastal waters is one of many ways in which humans influence the ocean," says Raymond Najjar, professor of meteorology, and a principal investigator on the project. "This study is important because it is the first to directly measure the impact of nitrogen deposition on the productivity of coastal waters."

READ THE FULL STORY: Air pollution and the ocean