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European Orbiter Finds No Methane in Mars’ Atmosphere, Puzzling Scientists

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The Trace Gas Orbiter arrived at Mars in 2016. (Credit: TG MEDIALAB/ESA)

The Trace Gas Orbiter has been hunting for methane in Mars’ atmosphere since 2016. (Credit: TG Medialab/ESA)

Methane on Mars

There’s a methane mystery brewing on Mars.

Scientists first detected traces of methane gas on Mars years ago, and it was exciting because the compound is a sign of life here on Earth. But a European orbiter has yet to find any evidence of methane in the planet’s atmosphere, despite being expressly made for the purpose. It’s complicating scientists’ search for life on the Red Planet.

Traces of methane were first detected in Mars’ atmosphere by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express orbiter in 2004. But, while some reveled in the discovery, other researchers believed the instrument wasn’t sensitive enough to create reliable results because it could only measure methane at a level of 10 parts per billion (ppb).

Ten years later, NASA’s Curiosity rover detected methane again in the planet’s Gale Crater. This past summer, Curiosity made another major methane discovery when it found that the Red Planet has a seasonal methane cycle.

Zero, Zip, Nada

But the ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which arrived at the planet in 2016, has found absolutely no methane in Mars’ atmosphere. The orbiter is using two spectrometers, both specially designed to detect methane in extremely low concentrations. At a semiannual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the TGO team said that these instruments are working perfectly well. The TGO team looked for concentrations of methane as low as 50 parts per trillion and extended their observations almost all the way to the planet’s surface. Still, no methane has been detected.

The data collected by TGO’s spectrometers has some noise that the team must clean up, Ann Carine Vandaele, the principal investigator for TGO’s NOMAD spectrometer, said at the meeting, as reported by Science. “But we already know we can’t see any methane,” she added.

Rethinking Mars

The Curiosity team has suggested that Mars’ methane likely comes from geological sources below the planet’s surface, though they couldn’t rule out organic sources, either. So, while TGO’s results are puzzling, they do help narrow down the search a bit by suggesting that there’s likely no methane coming from above the surface. Sources beneath the surface are still a viable reality, though.

However, these findings do rule out a previous suggestion that massive amounts of carbon from solar system dust enters Mars’ atmosphere every year and is turned into methane by solar radiation,

TGO’s findings might seem like a major flop in the search for life on Mars. But, as Sushin Atreya, a member of the Curiosity science team, explained to Science, it is possible that there could be methane beneath the planet’s surface that is not detected in the atmosphere. In fact, Atreya said that there could be thousands of methane sources, like the spot in Gale Crater where Curiosity measured a methane spike, and atmospheric signals could still be absent.

“I actually did the calculation. It’s going to average out to be a very, very low value, nondetectable,” he said.

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Ecology

Globe Climate: Canada’s resource reckoning is coming

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Good afternoon, and welcome to Globe Climate, a newsletter about climate change, environment and resources in Canada.

This afternoon, the Alberta government announced that it is restoring a coal mining policy it revoked last spring. At the time, the move provoked a widespread public backlash detailed by The Globe. The original decision, which opened up more than 1.4 million hectares to exploration, was made without public consultation. Premier Jason Kenney previously defended the changes.

Lots more on coal and Canada’s resources industry in this week’s newsletter edition.

Now, let’s catch you up on other news.

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Ecology

‘Incredibly destructive’: Canada’s Prairies to see devastating impact of climate change

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As the climate continues to warm at an alarming rate, experts warn if dramatic steps to mitigate global warming are not taken, the effects in Canada’s Prairie region will be devastating to the country’s agriculture sector.

According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the country is warming, on average, about double the global rate.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the U.S. recently found 2020 was earth’s second-hottest year on record, with the average land and ocean surface temperature across the globe at 0.98 of a degree C above the 20th-century average.

However, the agency found the northern hemisphere saw its hottest year on record, at 1.28 degrees C above the average.

“(In Canada) we are looking at about 6.4C degrees of warming this century, which isn’t much less than one degree per decade, which is just a terrifying rate of warming,” Darrin Qualman, the director of climate crisis policy and action at the National Farmer’s Union said.

Qualman said there is “massive change coming” to Canada’s Prairies, which will be “incredibly destructive.”

“It’s not going too far to say that if we made that happen, parts of the Prairies wouldn’t be farmable anymore,” he said.

According to the federal government, in 2018 Canada’s agriculture and agri-food system generated $143 billion, accounting for 7.4 per cent of the country’s GDP.

The sector employed 2.3 million people in 2018. The majority of the 64.2 million hectares of farmland in Canada is concentrated in the Prairies and in southern Ontario.

The effects of climate change are already being felt on the ground in the Prairies, Qualman said, adding that the NFU has already heard from farmers complaining of “challenging weather.”

“People are sharing pictures of flattened crops and buildings, et cetera, that have been damaged,” he said. “And we’re still at the beginning of this.”

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Ecology

Insect-based dog food aims to cut your pet’s carbon pawprint

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Meat has an enormous carbon footprint, with livestock liable for about 15 per cent of worldwide emissions, as we have beforehand mentioned on this e-newsletter. That is prompted specialists to suggest consuming much less meat for sustainability (and well being) causes.

However what about your pet? One research discovered that the methane and nitrous oxide emissions generated by canine and cat meals within the U.S. alone had been equal to about 64 million tonnes of CO2, or roughly the quantity produced by 13.6 million automobiles. And it might be getting worse, with a development towards feeding pets “human-grade” meat.

That is prompted some pet meals makers to look to lower-carbon protein sources — together with bugs.

Research present that producing insect-based meals requires far much less feed, land and water and generates far fewer greenhouse fuel emissions per kilogram than meats comparable to beef, pork or rooster.

That is one of many causes increasingly more pet meals containing insect protein are hitting the market. Purina, a model owned by multinational Nestlé, launched a line of canine and cat meals containing black soldier fly larvae in Switzerland in November.

In Canada, Montreal-based Wilder Harrier began promoting canine treats made with cricket protein in 2015 and pet food made with black soldier fly larvae in 2019. It plans to broaden to launch a line of insect-based cat treats later this yr and cat meals in 2022 due to “a ton of demand,” mentioned firm co-founder Philippe Poirier.

Wilder Harrier initially labored with animal nutritionists on insect-based merchandise to unravel a unique downside — specifically, the founders’ canines had allergy symptoms to frequent meats utilized in canine meals. Poirier mentioned now about half its prospects hunt down the product due to their pets’ allergy symptoms and about half for environmental causes.

Dr. Cailin Heinze, a U.S.-based veterinary nutritionist licensed by the American School of Veterinary Vitamin, has written concerning the environmental influence of pet meals. She mentioned we’re typically “not as involved as we probably ought to [be]” concerning the environmental footprint of pets.

Alternatively, she famous that the longer-term influence of newer diets, comparable to vegan meals and people containing bugs, hasn’t been nicely examined in comparison with conventional pet meals.

Maria Cattai de Godoy, an assistant professor of animal sciences on the College of Illinois who research novel proteins for pet meals (together with bugs, yeast and plant-based substances), mentioned such substances are rigorously examined to find out their security and diet earlier than being added to pet meals. 

“This can be a very extremely regulated trade,” she mentioned, however admitted it is also evolving.

Relating to bugs, she mentioned constructive information “reveals promise in direction of utilizing them increasingly more in pet meals.” Insect-based proteins have additionally earned the endorsement of the British Veterinary Affiliation, which says some insect-based meals could also be higher for pets than prime steak.

However Godoy famous that there isn’t any one-size-fits-all resolution, and pet homeowners ought to take into consideration the wants of their very own particular person pet and analysis whether or not a specific weight loss plan can be appropriate.

She mentioned that other than the kind of protein, issues like packaging and manufacturing strategies may also make a distinction. For instance, utilizing meat byproducts that may in any other case turn into waste would not drive elevated meat manufacturing the identical approach as utilizing human-grade meat.

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