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Emissions of Methane, a More Potent Greenhouse Gas Than CO2, Will Leap as Earth Warms

New research in the journal Nature found that for each degree that the Earth's temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere from microorganisms dwelling in freshwater wetlands -- a primary source of the gas -- will increase several times. The researchers analyzed nearly 1,600 measurements of temperature and methane emissions from 127 freshwater ecosystems across the globe (above), including lakes, swamps, marshes and rice paddies. The size of each point corresponds with the average rate of methane emissions in milligrams per square meter, per day, during the course of the study. The smallest points indicate less than one milligram per square meter, while the largest-sized point represents more than three milligrams. Credit: Image courtesy of Cristian Gudasz.

New research in the journal Nature found that for each degree that the Earth’s temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere from microorganisms dwelling in freshwater wetlands — a primary source of the gas — will increase several times. The researchers analyzed nearly 1,600 measurements of temperature and methane emissions from 127 freshwater ecosystems across the globe (above), including lakes, swamps, marshes and rice paddies. The size of each point corresponds with the average rate of methane emissions in milligrams per square meter, per day, during the course of the study. The smallest points indicate less than one milligram per square meter, while the largest-sized point represents more than three milligrams. Credit: Image courtesy of Cristian Gudasz.

As carbon dioxide is generally regarded as the main cause of greenhouse gases, you may not know that methane could be nearly 30 times more powerful as a heat-trapping gas.

The latest research result released by the journal Nature shows that with the rising temperature of Earth by each degree, the amount of methane getting into the atmosphere from microorganisms dwelling such as freshwater wetlands and lake sediment, which are major sources of such gas, will go up by several times. It is reported by the researchers that as temperatures goes up, the relative escalation of methane emissions will be much higher that of carbon dioxide from these sources.

According the explanation by Cristian Gudasz, a visiting postdoctoral research associate in Princeton’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the current findings make  the complicated and varied process so simple that scientists could measure how methane gets into the atmosphere, since methane is regarded as the third most prevailing greenhouse gas after water vapor and carbon dioxide at present. In freshwater systems, methane is created with the microorganisms’ digestion of organic matter; such process is known as “methanogenesis”, which depends on many things related to temperature, chemical, ecological and physical factors. These factors can confuse scientists trying hard to model how Earth’s systems will make contribution and give response to a hotter future.

As suggested by the researchers’ findings, the emissions of methane coming from freshwater systems will probably go up with the global temperature. Because scientist are not sure that how great the methane contribution from such a widely diversified ecosystem including lakes, marshes, swamps and rice paddies, there will be a glaring hole left in climate projections.

Gudasz explained that the freshwater systems they referred in their paper were an important component to the climate system. And they had more remarkable evidence to illustrate that the freshwater systems have contribute in some way to the methane emissions. Methane produced either natural freshwater systems or humanmade ones will go up with temperature.

In order to find a simple and accurate approach by which the  climate modelers can explain the features of methanogenesis, Gudasz and his colleagues had completed the analysis involved in nearly 1,600 measurements of methane emissions and temperature collected from 127 freshwater ecosystems all over the world.

As a result, they found the common effect from their research that freshwater methane generation would be thriving on high temperatures. With the temperature going up to 30 degrees Celsius, methane emissions would rise 57 times higher than that at 0 degrees Celsius. For those who are intended to model it, the researchers’ finding could be translated to a temperature dependence of 0.96 electron volts (eV), which would indicate well the temperature-sensitivity of the methane-emitting ecosystems.

To summaries their research, Gudasz wrote that they would like to predict the relationships between greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on global warming. By looking across these scales and constraining them as they already tried in their paper, they wanted to make better predictions in the future.

Source: Eurekalert!

Reference: 

  1. Gabriel Yvon-Durocher, Andrew P. Allen, David Bastviken, Ralf Conrad, Cristian Gudasz, Annick St-Pierre, Nguyen Thanh-Duc, Paul A. del Giorgio. Methane fluxes show consistent temperature dependence across microbial to ecosystem scalesNature, 2014; 507 (7493): 488 DOI: 10.1038/nature13164

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