What happens if methane is released into the atmosphere?

Methane is a flammable gas that if released into the atmosphere can contribute to global warming, and damage of the planet's ozone layer. In this article we take a look at what happens when methane is released into the atmosphere and what can be done to reduce the amount of methane released. We also look at the importance of measuring and monitoring methane levels in industries where methane is a byproduct of operations, such as agriculture landfill sites and the mining of fossil fuels.

The greenhouse effect

When methane is released into the atmosphere it sticks around and forms part of the air that we breathe. Methane is considered a greenhouse gas as it has the ability to absorb large amounts of heat and energy. Methane in the earth's atmosphere acts as a blanket, warming up the planet, this is known as the greenhouse effect. Methane is the second biggest contributor after carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is when the sun's heat is absorbed by methane, CO2 and other gasses in our atmosphere and projected back to the earth. This increases the earth's temperature and contributes to global warming which results in the increase of extreme weather.

Methane and carbon dioxide

Methane absorbs energy very well; this makes it considerably more dangerous as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide. Its lifespan is however much shorter, so compared to carbon dioxide it leaves the atmosphere after a considerably shorter time. The levels of methane in the atmosphere are also much lower than carbon dioxide. Methane when burned also releases carbon dioxide, when used to power vehicles, heat homes and generate electricity, methane also contributes to global warming as carbon dioxide is released.

Ozone destruction

Not only does methane contribute to the greenhouse effect but it also contributes to the destruction of the ozone layer. This is the layer that protects the earth from 97% of the sun's UV rays. Methane when transformed into water in the stratosphere contributes to the destruction of the ozone layer.

Reducing and monitoring methane emissions

Methane is damaging to the environment in many ways as discussed above. Reducing the amount of methane that is released into the atmosphere is essential to help combat climate change. It is widely agreed that the amount of methane being released into the atmosphere by human processes should be reduced as much as possible. The reduction of methane entering the atmosphere can be achieved in different ways depending on the industry and source of the methane gas. Here are the key sources of man-made methane gas and the ways that they can be reduced.

Fossil fuel extraction, distribution and use

  • Close monitoring to fix and identify any leaks as soon as possible
  • Upgrade equipment to increase efficiency and reduce leaks

Landfill sites

  • Implement a landfill gas collection system to make use of the methane emissions
  • Closely monitor landfill gas emissions to avoid high methane levels and ensure collection systems are working correctly


  • Use innovative feed solutions to minimize gasses released from cattle and other animals
  • Recycle animal waste and harvest methane through anaerobic digestion plants

For more information on the sources of methane gas and how methane emissions can be reduced you can read our article - what is the main source of methane gas?

Monitoring methane emissions

Monitoring methane emissions is an essential part of a number of industries. Landfills must monitor emissions by law to ensure they are abiding by regulations and avoid the dangers of explosions. When extracting fossil fuels in coal mines or through drilling for natural gas the surface levels should be continuously monitored to avoid dangerous situations for employees and immediate detection of leaks. Emissions also need to be monitored to reduce the harmful effects that methane has on the planet when released into the atmosphere.

At QED we have several gas analysers and gas detectors suitable for a wide range of industries and applications. Each of our gas analysers is able to give a reading of the air quality and provide an accurate assessment of the types of gas present in the air and their respective levels. Take a look at our selection of gas analysers and detectors or contact us if you need more information or support.

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Oil and Gas
Natural Gas Leak Detection