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Breaking moos: Noxious cattle gas spotted from space
Canadian satellite company captures images of feedlot methane cloud
(A native of England, Matthew Diebel is a veteran journalist who has worked at NBC News, Time, USA Today and News Corp., among other organizations. Having spent his childhood next to one of the world's fastest bodies of water, he is particularly interested in tidal energy.)
OK, we admit it — that we’re somewhat obsessed by the fact that belching and farting cattle (and other agricultural animals) are responsible for about 11% of the production of U.S. methane pollution, according to the EPA. Globally, cattle are the single-biggest biggest source of the noxious gas.
A little science first, however, before our new reveal on climate-changing cows: Methane, though its effects are relatively short-term compared with carbon dioxide, is more than 84 times more powerful than CO₂ in its first two decades in the atmosphere, with a panel of UN-backed scientists warning in a recent report that global methane emissions must be reduced by a third by 2030 if the global warming is to be slowed.
OK, now to the bovines. A Canadian satellite company, GHGSat, that monitors methane emissions, has captured images of cattle-caused methane emissions from a California farming operation. The cloud of gas was detected over the Bear 5 feedlot in the San Joaquin Valley near Bakersfield, with quantities ranging from 977 pounds an hour to 1,473. If those emissions are sustained for a year, the cattle would release 5,116 tons of gas, enough to power 15,402 homes, the Montreal-based firm said in a statement.
“This has not been done at an individual facility scale for the agriculture sector, as far as we know,” Brody Wight, sales director at GHGSat, told Bloomberg. “The idea is that we need to measure first before you can take real positive action,” adding that the new findings were possible because of scientific advances in reading satellite images.
Meanwhile, we thought you might like to know two further things about cattle-produced methane. First, the internal process that produces it is called enteric fermentation. Google it to find out more. Second, 95% of it comes out of the front end, chiefly through the nose, with the remaining 5% coming out of the back end.
And you wondered why we are cow-captivated. That, and having grown up on a farm.