Large-Scale Controls of Methanogenesis Inferred from Methane and Gravity Spaceborne Data

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Science  15 Jan 2010:
Vol. 327, Issue 5963, pp. 322-325
DOI: 10.1126/science.1175176

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Measuring Methanogenesis

After carbon dioxide, methane is the second most important greenhouse gas, and an important species in terms of its role in atmospheric chemistry. The sources and sinks of methane, particularly the natural ones, are too poorly quantified, however, even to explain why the decades-long, steady increase of its concentration in the atmosphere was interrupted between 1999 and 2006. Bloom et al. (p. 322) use a combination of satellite data, which indicate water table depth and surface temperature, and atmospheric methane concentrations to determine the location and strength of methane emissions from wetlands, the largest natural global source. The constraints placed on these sources should help to improve predictions of how climate change will affect wet-land emissions of methane.


Wetlands are the largest individual source of methane (CH4), but the magnitude and distribution of this source are poorly understood on continental scales. We isolated the wetland and rice paddy contributions to spaceborne CH4 measurements over 2003–2005 using satellite observations of gravity anomalies, a proxy for water-table depth Γ, and surface temperature analyses TS. We find that tropical and higher-latitude CH4 variations are largely described by Γ and TS variations, respectively. Our work suggests that tropical wetlands contribute 52 to 58% of global emissions, with the remainder coming from the extra-tropics, 2% of which is from Arctic latitudes. We estimate a 7% rise in wetland CH4 emissions over 2003–2007, due to warming of mid-latitude and Arctic wetland regions, which we find is consistent with recent changes in atmospheric CH4.

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