Wetland methane emissions

Contributing approximately 167 Tg of methane to the atmosphere per year[1]; wetlands are the largest natural source of atmospheric methane in the world, and therefore remain a major area of concern with respect to climate change.[2][3] Wetlands are characterized by water-logged soils and distinctive communities of plant and animal species that have evolved and adapted to the constant presence of water. This high level of water saturation creates conditions conducive to methane production.

Most methanogenesis, or methane production, occurs in oxygen-poor environments. Because the microbes that live in warm, moist environments consume oxygen more rapidly than it can diffuse in from the atmosphere, wetlands are the ideal anaerobic environments for fermentation as well as methanogen activity. However, levels of methanogenesis can fluctuate as it is dependent on the availability of oxygen, temperature of the soil, and the composition of the soil; a warmer, more anaerobic environment with soil rich in organic matter would allow for more efficient methanogenesis.[4]

Fermentation is a process used by certain kinds of microorganisms to break down essential nutrients. In a process called acetoclastic methanogenesis, microorganisms from the classification domain archaea produce methane by fermenting acetate and H2-CO2 into methane and carbon dioxide.

H3C-COOH → CH4 + CO2

Depending on the wetland and type of archaea, hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis, another process that yields methane, can also occur. This process occurs as a result of archaea oxidizing hydrogen with carbon dioxide to yield methane and water.

4H2 + CO2 → CH4 + 2H2O

Natural progressions of wetlands

Many different kinds of wetlands exist, all characterized by unique compositions of plant life and water conditions. To list a few, marshes, swamps, bogs, fens, peatlands, muskegs, prairie pothole (landform),[5] and pocosins are all examples of different kinds of wetlands. Because each type of wetland is unique, the same characteristics used to classify each wetland can also be used to characterize the amount of methane emitted from that particular wetland. Any waterlogged environment with moderate levels of decomposition creates the anaerobic conditions needed for methanogenesis, but the amount of water and decomposition will affect the magnitude of methane emissions in a specific environment. For example, lower water tables can result in lower levels of methane emission because many methanotrophic bacteria require oxic conditions to oxidize methane into carbon dioxide and water. Higher water tables, however, result in higher levels of methane emission because there is less habitable area for methanotrophic bacteria to live, and thus the methane can more easily diffuse into the atmosphere without being broken down.

Often, the natural ecological progression of wetlands involves the development of one kind of wetland into one or several other kinds of wetlands. So over time, a wetland will naturally change the amount of methane emitted from its soil.

For example, Peatlands are wetlands that contain a large amount of peat, or partially decayed plant life. When peatlands are first developing, they often start out as fens, wetlands characterized by mineral rich soil. These flooded wetlands, with higher water tables, would naturally have higher emissions of methane. Eventually, the fens develop into bogs, acidic wetlands with accumulations of peat and lower water tables. With the lower water tables, methane emissions are more easily consumed by methanotrophic, or methane consuming, bacteria and never make it to the atmosphere. Over time, the peatlands develop and end up with accumulated pools of water, which once again increases emissions of methane.

Pathways of methane emission in wetlands

Once produced, methane can reach the atmosphere via three main pathways: molecular diffusion, transport through plant aerenchyma, and ebullition. Primary productivity fuels methane emissions both directly and indirectly because plants not only provide much of the carbon needed for methane producing processes in wetlands but can affect its transport as well.

Diffusion

Diffusion through the profile refers to the movement of methane up through soil and bodies of water to reach the atmosphere. The importance of diffusion as a pathway varies per wetland based on the type of soil and vegetation.[6] For example, in peatlands, the mass amount of dead, but not decaying, organic matter results in relatively slow diffusion of methane through the soil.[7] Additionally, because methane can travel more quickly through soil than water, diffusion plays a much bigger role in wetlands with drier, more loosely compacted soil.

Aerenchyma

Aerenchyma2
Plant-mediated methane flux through plant aerenchyma, shown here, can contribute 30-100% of the total methane flux from wetlands with emergent vegetation[8].

Plant aerenchyma refers to the vessel-like transport tubes within the tissues of certain kinds of plants. Plants with aerenchyma possess porous tissue that allows for direct travel of gases to and from the plant roots. Methane can travel directly up from the soil into the atmosphere using this transport system.[7] The direct “shunt” created by the aerenchyma allows for methane to bypass oxidation by oxygen that is also transported by the plants to their roots.

Ebullition

Ebullition refers to the sudden release of bubbles of methane into the air. These bubbles occur as a result of methane building up over time in the soil, forming pockets of methane gas. As these pockets of trapped methane grow in size, the level of the soil will slowly rise up as well. This phenomenon continues until so much pressure builds up that the bubble “pops,” transporting the methane up through the soil so quickly that it does not have time to be consumed by the methanotrophic organisms in the soil. With this release of gas, the level of soil then falls once more.

Ebullition in wetlands can be recorded by delicate sensors, called piezometers, that can detect the presence of pressure pockets within the soil. Hydraulic heads are also used to detect the subtle rising and falling of the soil as a result of pressure build up and release. Using piezometers and hydraulic heads, a study was done in northern United States peatlands to determine the significance of ebullition as a source of methane. Not only was it determined that ebullition is in fact a significant source of methane emissions in northern United States peatlands, but it was also observed that there was an increase in pressure after significant rainfall, suggesting that rainfall is directly related to methane emissions in wetlands.[9]

Controlling factors on methane emission from wetlands

The magnitude of methane emission from a wetland are usually measured using eddy covariance, gradient or chamber flux techniques, and depends upon several factors, including water table, comparative ratios of methanogenic bacteria to methanotrophic bacteria, transport mechanisms, temperature, substrate type, plant life, and climate. These factors work together to effect and control methane flux in wetlands.

Overall the main determinant of net flux of methane into the atmosphere is the ratio of methane produced by methanogenic bacteria that makes it to the surface relative to the amount of methane that is oxidized by methanotrophic bacteria before reaching the atmosphere.[10] This ratio is in turn affected by the other controlling factors of methane in the environment. Additionally, pathways of methane emission affect how the methane travels into the atmosphere and thus have an equal effect on methane flux in wetlands.

Water table

The first controlling factor to consider is the level of the water table. Not only does pool and water table location determine the areas where methane production or oxidation may take place, but it also determines how quickly methane can diffuse into the air. When traveling through water, the methane molecules run into the quickly moving water molecules and thus take a longer time to reach the surface. Travel through soil, however, is much easier and results in easier diffusion into the atmosphere. This theory of movement is supported by observations made in wetlands where significant fluxes of methane occurred after a drop in the water table due to drought.[10] If the water table is at or above the surface, then methane transport begins to take place primarily through ebullition and vascular or pressurized plant mediated transport, with high levels of emission occurring during the day from plants that use pressurized ventilation.[10]

Temperature

Temperature is also an important factor to consider as the environmental temperature—and temperature of the soil in particular—affects the metabolic rate of production or consumption by bacteria. Additionally, because methane fluxes occur annually with the seasons, evidence is provided that suggests that the temperature changing coupled with water table level work together to cause and control the seasonal cycles[11].

Substrate composition

The composition of soil and substrate availability change the nutrients available for methanogenic and methanotrophic bacteria, and thus directly affects the rate of methane production and consumption. For example, wetlands soils with high levels of acetate or hydrogen and carbon dioxide are conducive to methane production. Additionally, the type of plant life and amount of plant decomposition affects the nutrients available to the bacteria as well as the acidity. Plant leachates such as phenolic compounds from Sphagnum can also interact with soil characteristics to influence methane production and consumption[12]. A constant availability of cellulose and a soil pH of about 6.0 have been determined to provide optimum conditions for methane production and consumption; however, substrate quality can be overridden by other factors.[10] Soil pH and composition must still be compared to the effects of water table and temperature.

Net ecosystem production

Net ecosystem production (NEP) and climate changes are the all encompassing factors that have been shown to have a direct relationship with methane emissions from wetlands. In wetlands with high water tables, NEP has been shown to increase and decrease with methane emissions, most likely due to the fact that both NEP and methane emissions flux with substrate availability and soil composition. In wetlands with lower water tables, the movement of oxygen in and out of the soil can increase the oxidation of methane and the inhibition of methanogenesis, nulling the relationship between methane emission and NEP because methane production becomes dependent upon factors deep within the soil.

A changing climate affects many factors within the ecosystem, including water table, temperature, and plant composition within the wetland—all factors that affect methane emissions. However, climate change can also affect the amount of carbon dioxide in the surrounding atmosphere, which would in turn decrease the addition of methane into the atmosphere, as shown by an 80% decrease in methane flux in areas of doubled carbon dioxide levels.[10]

Human development of wetlands

Humans often drain wetlands in the name of development, housing, and agriculture. By draining wetlands, the water table is thus lowered, increasing consumption of methane by the methanotrophic bacteria in the soil.[10] However, as a result of draining, water saturated ditches develop, which due to the warm, moist environment, end up emitting a large amount of methane.[10] Therefore the actual effect on methane emission strongly ends up depending on several factors. If the drains are not spaced far enough apart, then saturated ditches will form, creating mini wetland environments. Additionally, if the water table is lowered significantly enough, then the wetland can actually be transformed from a source of methane into a sink that consumes methane. Finally, the actual composition of the original wetland changes how the surrounding environment is affected by the draining and human development.

References

  1. ^ "Global Methane Budget". Global Carbon Project. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
  2. ^ Houghton, J. T., et al. (Eds.) (2001) Projections of future climate change, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 881 pp.
  3. ^ Bridgham, S. D., Cadillo-Quiroz, H., Keller, J. K. and Zhuang, Q. (2013), Methane emissions from wetlands: biogeochemical, microbial, and modeling perspectives from local to global scales. Glob Change Biol, 19: 1325–1346. doi:10.1111/gcb.12131
  4. ^ Christensen, T. R., A. Ekberg, L. Strom, M. Mastepanov, N. Panikov, M. Oquist, B. H. Svenson, H. Nykanen, P. J. Martikainen, and H. Oskarsson (2003), Factors controlling large scale variations in methane emissions from wetlands, Geophys. Res. Lett., 30, 1414, doi:10.1029/2002GL016848.
  5. ^ Tangen Brian A., Finocchiaro Raymond G., Gleason Robert A. (2015). "Effects of land use on greenhouse gas fluxes and soil properties of wetland catchments in the Prairie Pothole Region of North America". Science of the Total Environment. 533: 391–409. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.06.148. PMID 26172606.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Tang J., Zhuang Q., White, J.R., Shannon, R.D. (2008). "Assessing the role of different wetland methane emission pathways with a biogeochemistry model". AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts. 2008: B33B–0424. Bibcode:2008AGUFM.B33B0424T.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^ a b Couwenberg, John. Greifswald University. "Methane emissions from peat soils." http://www.imcg.net/media/download_gallery/climate/couwenberg_2009b.pdf
  8. ^ Bridgham, Scott D.; Cadillo-Quiroz, Hinsby; Keller, Jason K.; Zhuang, Qianlai (2013-02-11). "Methane emissions from wetlands: biogeochemical, microbial, and modeling perspectives from local to global scales". Global Change Biology. 19 (5): 1325–1346. doi:10.1111/gcb.12131. ISSN 1354-1013. PMID 23505021.
  9. ^ Glaser, P.H., J.P. Chanton, P. Morin, D.O. Rosenberry, D.I. Siegel, O. Ruud, L.I. Chasar, A.S. Reeve. 2004. "Surface deformations as indicators of deep ebullition fluxes in a large northern peatland."
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Bubier, Jill L. and Moore, Tim R. "An ecological perspective on methane emissions from northern wetlands."
  11. ^ Turetsky, Merritt R.; Kotowska, Agnieszka; Bubier, Jill; Dise, Nancy B.; Crill, Patrick; Hornibrook, Ed R. C.; Minkkinen, Kari; Moore, Tim R.; Myers-Smith, Isla H. (2014-04-28). "A synthesis of methane emissions from 71 northern, temperate, and subtropical wetlands". Global Change Biology. 20 (7): 2183–2197. doi:10.1111/gcb.12580. ISSN 1354-1013. PMID 24777536.
  12. ^ Medvedeff, Cassandra A.; Bridgham, Scott D.; Pfeifer-Meister, Laurel; Keller, Jason K. (2015). "Can Sphagnum leachate chemistry explain differences in anaerobic decomposition in peatlands?". Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 86: 34–41. doi:10.1016/j.soilbio.2015.03.016. ISSN 0038-0717.
Atmospheric methane

Atmospheric methane is the methane present in Earth's atmosphere. Atmospheric methane concentrations are of interest because it is one of the most potent greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere. Atmospheric methane is rising.The 20-year global warming potential of methane is 84. That is, over a 20-year period, it traps 84 times more heat per mass unit than carbon dioxide and 32 times the effect when accounting for aerosol interactions. Global methane concentrations had risen from 722 parts per billion (ppb) in pre-industrial times to 1866 ppb by 2019, an increase by a factor of 2.5 and the highest value in at least 800,000 years. Its concentration is higher in the Northern Hemisphere since most sources (both natural and human) are located on land and the Northern Hemisphere has more land mass. The concentrations vary seasonally, with, for example, a minimum in the northern tropics during April−May mainly due to removal by the hydroxyl radical.Early in the Earth's history carbon dioxide and methane likely produced a greenhouse effect. The carbon dioxide would have been produced by volcanoes and the methane by early microbes. During this time, Earth's earliest life appeared. These first, ancient bacteria added to the methane concentration by converting hydrogen and carbon dioxide into methane and water. Oxygen did not become a major part of the atmosphere until photosynthetic organisms evolved later in Earth's history. With no oxygen, methane stayed in the atmosphere longer and at higher concentrations than it does today.The known sources of methane are predominantly located near the Earth's surface. In combination with vertical atmospheric motions and methane's relatively long lifetime, methane is considered to be a well-mixed gas. In other words, the concentration of methane is taken to be constant with respect to height within the troposphere. The dominant sink of methane in the troposphere is reaction with hydroxyl radicals that are formed by reaction of singlet oxygen atoms with water vapor. Methane is also present in the stratosphere, where methane's concentration decreases with height.

Joel Salatin

Joel F. Salatin (born February 24, 1957) is an American farmer, lecturer, and author whose books include Folks, This Ain't Normal; You Can Farm; and Salad Bar Beef.

Salatin raises livestock using holistic management methods of animal husbandry on his Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. Meat from the farm is sold by direct marketing to consumers and restaurants.

Marsh gas

Marsh gas, swamp gas, and bog gas is a mixture of methane, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide, produced naturally within some geographical marshes, swamps, and bogs.

The surface of marshes, swamps, and bogs is initially porous vegetation that rots to form a crust that prevents oxygen from reaching the organic material trapped below. That is the condition that allows anaerobic digestion and fermentation of any plant or animal material which incidentally also produces methane.

In some cases there is sufficient heat, fuel, and oxygen to allow spontaneous combustion and underground fires to smolder for some considerable time, as has occurred at a natural reserve in Spain. Such fires can cause surface subsidence, presenting an unpredictable physical hazard as well as environmental changes or damage to the local environment and the ecosystem it supports.

Methane emissions

Global methane emissions are major part of the global greenhouse gas emissions. Methane in the atmosphere has a 100-year global warming potential of 34.

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