U.S. Methane Hot Spot Is Much Gassier Than Expected

A tiny "hot spot" in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest produces the largest concentration of methane seen anywhere in the nation — and the amount produced is more than triple what was previously thought, a new study says. Scientists at NASA and the University of Michigan made the discovery by studying satellite data from 2003 to 2009. The 2,500-square-mile hot spot — near the intersection of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — released about 590,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere in each of the seven years studied. That's almost 3.5 times the estimate for the same area in the European Union’s widely used, ground-based database.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to global warming. Lead author Eric Kort of the University of Michigan pointed out that the data came before widespread use of fracking near the hot spot. The scientists attribute the methane emissions to leaks in equipment used for natural-gas production in New Mexico's San Juan Basin. The study appeared in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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