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Methane emissions

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 - 10:36am

And speaking of the need to protect pristine areas, some that might not be thought of as necessarily pristine also deserve greater consideration of their important functions as natural areas. This new study emphasizes methane sinks that need to be better understood:

Though they occupy a small fraction of the Earth's surface, freshwater wetlands are the largest natural source of methane going into the atmosphere. New research from the University of Georgia identifies an unexpected process that acts as a key gatekeeper regulating methane emissions from these freshwater environments.

The study, published in Nature Communications by Samantha Joye and colleagues, describes how high rates of anaerobic methane oxidation, a process once considered insignificant in these environments, substantially reduce atmospheric emissions of methane from freshwater wetlands.

While anaerobic methane oxidation in freshwaters has been gathering scientific attention, the environmental relevance of this process was unknown.

...

The new study shows that if not for the anaerobic methane oxidation process, freshwater environments would account for an even greater portion of the global methane budget.

Freshwater wetlands encompass a wide variety of aquatic habitats including swamps, marshes, bogs, prairie potholes, flood plains, and fen (the extensive peat-forming wetlands that receive nutrients from sources other than precipitation). This in-depth study from Samantha Joye and Christof Meile in the department of marine sciences is an important new look into how methane is released into the atmosphere. Because of low sulfate concentrations, anaerobic oxidation in freshwater wetlands was not thought to be important. But Joye's team has realized a new signifance about this process, by basically looking at what they knew in a different way. A distinct biochemistry from the marine environment could indicate potentially different behavior of know organisms. All the more reason to protect these areas from pollution and/or mineralization that might adversely effect this delicate balance. Great work from our scientists.

Image: The Great Fen Project, Great Cambourne, Britain

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