Monday, September 15, 2014

Tropical Dams an Underestimated Methane Source

New scientific data supports the belief that methane emissions from big hydroelectric dams in the tropics outweigh the benefits that this form of renewable energy provides. (Credit: Amit Rawat/Flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Big dams built in the tropics to produce hydroelectricity have long been highly controversial - and data gathered in Laos by a French team studying methane emissions confirms that dams can add to global warming, not reduce it.

In many rocky regions low on vegetation and population, such as in Iceland and other northern mountainous regions, the production of electricity from hydropower is clearly a net gain in the battle against climate change.

In Asia, Africa and South America, however, masses of methane are produced from dams by the drowning of tropical forests in them.  As long ago as 2007, researchers at Brazil's National Institute for Space Research calculated that the world's largest dams emitted 104 million tonnes of methane annually and were responsible for 4 percent of the human contribution to climate change.

Short-Term Threat

Since methane has an impact 84 times higher over 20 years than the same quantity of carbon dioxide, this is a serious short-term threat to pushing the planet towards the danger threshold of increasing temperatures by 2°C (3.6 degrees F).

Despite the warnings that big dams in the tropics might be adding to climate change, governments go on building them - while often claiming that large dams equal clean energy.

The new research shows that the methane discharges are probably even worse than current calculations.

Tropical Dams an Underestimated Methane Source

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