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Old carbon reservoirs were not important in the deglacial methane budget

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Science  21 Feb 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6480, pp. 907-910
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax0504

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Small burden from old sources

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with large natural sources, reservoirs, and sinks. Dyonisius et al. found that methane emissions from old, cold-region carbon reservoirs like permafrost and methane hydrates were minor during the last deglaciation (see the Perspective by Dean). They analyzed the carbon isotopic composition of atmospheric methane trapped in bubbles in Antarctic ice and found that methane emissions from those old carbon sources during the warming interval were small. They argue that this finding suggests that methane emissions in response to future warming likely will not be as large as some have suggested.

Science, this issue p. 907; see also p. 846

Abstract

Permafrost and methane hydrates are large, climate-sensitive old carbon reservoirs that have the potential to emit large quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as the Earth continues to warm. We present ice core isotopic measurements of methane (Δ14C, δ13C, and δD) from the last deglaciation, which is a partial analog for modern warming. Our results show that methane emissions from old carbon reservoirs in response to deglacial warming were small (<19 teragrams of methane per year, 95% confidence interval) and argue against similar methane emissions in response to future warming. Our results also indicate that methane emissions from biomass burning in the pre-Industrial Holocene were 22 to 56 teragrams of methane per year (95% confidence interval), which is comparable to today.

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