Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas. It is 84 times stronger than carbon dioxide over 20 years, and it has caused nearly half of Earth's heating since the Industrial Revolution. However, because this gas decays quickly in the atmosphere, actions taken to reduce methane emissions today can rapidly slow the warming of our planet.

As organic materials decompose in landfill conditions, they release high volumes of methane. The waste sector accounts for 20 percent of human methane emissions, thereby presenting a significant opportunity to slow the pace of climate change. 

One emerging landfill methane solution is called a "biocover." This technology consists of a layer of ordinary compost spread across a landfill's surface. Biocovers contain naturally occurring methane-eating microorganisms, which reduce emissions between 70 and 100 percent. They are effective, simple, and affordable but have not yet seen widespread use.

California has an opportunity to lead the world toward biocover deployment, and the Discovery team can play a key role. Students will use publicly available data on the size, age, and composition of landfills to determine which high-emitting landfills are best suited for biocovers. These findings will be used to encourage policymakers to introduce a statewide biocover program that—like other California climate initiatives—could serve as a model for the world.

Fall 2022