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20-41. Quantitative coal mine methane research and development of scenario analysis tools to reduce atmospheric emissions


Closing Date: January 6, 2022

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.



Background: Methane emissions from different sources are second to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions as a cause of global warming. Although it is a short-lived gas in the atmosphere (~12.4 years), methane’s instantaneous global warming potency is much larger (up to 120 times) than that of CO2. Global atmospheric concentrations of methane have increased nearly 150% from pre-industrial levels and are projected to increase another 20% by 2030. Therefore, reducing methane emissions in the near term is critical to reduce global temperature rises (GMI, 2021). Approximately 54% of anthropogenic methane emissions originate from five main sources, among which coal mining accounts for 9% (UNECE, 2021). According to the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2018), approximately 10% of methane emissions in the United States was from the coal mining sector in 2015.

Description of the Research Opportunity: Evaluation and prediction of methane emissions from active coal mines and from sealed/abandoned coal mine sections, as well as the design of an optimized recovery system are not easy due to the complexity of the operations and involvement of many geologic and engineering factors. To minimize methane emissions from active and abandoned coal mines and to recover methane for potential use, necessary research related to estimating the size of these emissions and their locations (inventory) and probabilistic forecasts for future emissions based on geological and geo-technical factors (scenario analysis) should be performed using interpretation, modeling and forecasting tools.

This Research Opportunity contains integrated phases to achieve these objectives. The first phase will be an analysis of the emissions and methane capture system performance from operating and abandoned mines in the United States, or within a selected region where most of the gassy or abandoned mines are located. Site-specific considerations including geology, inventory of wells releasing methane from sealed or abandoned sections and geo-technical data, as well as their uncertainties, from these mines can be used as variables for probabilistic or predictive approaches for regional assessments and will allow development of emission factors. These studies will also allow development of an inventory of regional probabilistic coal mine emissions. The next phase will include site visits and related field work that may include sampling and monitoring, or use of remote sensing data, for data analysis and modeling to calibrate measurements and to perform sensitivity analysis of critical parameters. Finally, coal mine methane and abandoned mine emission and resource recovery potential can be evaluated as part of a scenario analysis for designing capture and use opportunities of these resources to reduce emissions from ventilation shafts or wells emitting gas from abandoned sections. However, these steps should be considered as a general guidance. The candidate will have the ultimate flexibility to be creative to design the research methods and use appropriate research tools for the goals.

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas.


National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018, Improving characterization of anthropogenic methane emissions in the United States, Washington, D.C.: doi:

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), 2021, A call to action on methane management.

Global Methane Initiative (GMI), 2021, About methane,

Proposed Duty Station: Reston, Virginia

Areas of PhD: Geology, physical science engineering, or related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet the qualifications for:  Research Geologist

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact: Audrey Tsujita, 916-278-9395,