17 September 2015

Invaluable for new agreements on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions

New European measurement network accurately follows all non-CO2-greenhouse gases

Prior to the political summit in Paris at the end of this year, Utrecht University will be hosting an international scientific conference on non-CO2 greenhouse gases from 21-24 September 2015. These gases are estimated to be responsible for approximately one-third of global warming. The conference will conclude the successful European InGOS project that was coordinated by ECN in the Netherlands. InGOS has realised a very accurate European measurement network for all non-COgreenhouse gases. 

Prof.dr. Thomas Rockmann
Prof.dr. Thomas Rockmann

“Thanks to InGOS, we can now follow the development in the concentrations of known non-CO2 greenhouse gases extremely accurately.”, explains Thomas Röckmann, Professor of Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry at Utrecht University and host of the conference. It was found for instance that the emission of a number of very damaging of these greenhouse gases used in spray cans and air conditioners, are drastically reduced. However, the concentrations of many other gases have increased and seem more difficult to limit. “For formulating new agreements on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions these independent and solid scientific observations are invaluable.”

Excellent support for climate policy

The InGOS measurement network is also able to detect new potential greenhouse gases, even if they occur in very small concentrations. InGOS has already discovered some previously unknown CFCs. The project has observed that some of the replacement substances for those sort of industrial gases are strong greenhouse gases as well. “Our measurement equipment is so sensitive, that we were able to observe new substances immediately after they were introduced to the market. That is an excellent support for the government’s climate policy”, explains Röckmann.

Still increasing

Reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases other than CO2 is considered a relatively simple measure to limit the greenhouse effect, as industrial gases are often replaceable with other gases. The most successful example is the replacement of CFCs by other substances, which are less harmful to the ozone layer. However, the emissions of many other non-CO2 greenhouse gases are still increasing.

Concentration of methane rises

The latter applies to an important compound as methane as well. A molecule of methane retains much more heat than CO2 and therefore contributes relatively more to global warming. The concentration of methane in the atmosphere has displayed a highly variable trend, with years of strong increase followed by years of stability and another increase in recent years. Dr. Ed Dlugokencky from the Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, who leads the largest methane measurement system in the world, will present the latest state of affairs at the conference in Utrecht.

Beeld uit animatie met uitleg over het InGOS-project
Still from animation that explains the InGOS-project

Extraction of shale gas

Methane is present in the atmosphere at low levels of about 2 parts per million. It is formed naturally, for example by bacteria in wetlands, but at present human activity releases more methane into the atmosphere than natural sources. Part of this is caused by the exploration of shale gas that in recent years has started on a large scale. Measurements show that during the exploration a lot of methane is released into the atmosphere. “Since methane is released by so many different chemical processes, it is difficult to determine which of them contributes most to the increase in atmospheric concentrations”, explains Röckmann.

Distinguishing between bacteria and fossil fuels

“At Utrecht University we are developing instruments to differentiate between the various sources. During the InGOS project, we were able to use our large measurement tower in Cabauw, the Netherlands, to conduct such measurements with a high time resolution for the first time. The results of these measurement make it possible for us to determine whether the methane is primarily created by bacteria or by fossil fuels.”

InGOS is an Integrating Activity (IA) project financed as part of the 7th EU Framework Programme. In the InGOS project scientists from 37 European institutions worked together.


Watch the InGOS animation at YouTube.

Sustainability at Utrecht University

By combining its expertise in the field of sustainability, Utrecht University develops integrated solutions for sustainability issues contributing to a better future for following generations. This theme connects Utrecht’s excellent sustainability research from the humanities, sciences and social sciences with a focus on water, energy and a healthy environment. Sustainability is one of the four strategic research themes at Utrecht University.

More information on the research theme Sustainability.


Monica van der Garde, Press Spokesperson, Faculty of Science
m.vandergarde@uu.nl, 06 13 66 14 38.