Double Trouble? Wet Climate Promotes Methane Production In Peatlands

First Posted: Nov 18, 2016 03:20 AM EST

A new study has found that wetter climate increases the production of methane gas in peatlands, adding up to the predicament of global warming.

Peatlands are important sources of greenhouse gases. However, their capacity to produce methane is still unclear especially under the changing conditions of the climate. In a new study, a team of researchers analyzed a 34-year time series of pore-water chemistry to determine the connection between methane production and climate patterns.

There are various types of greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere mostly by burning fossil fuels, solid waste, trees and wood products. However, this gas is removed from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by plants.

On the other hand, methane is produced during the production of coal, oil, livestock and other agricultural practices. While methane does not stay as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it is far more devastating to the climate since it absorbs heat far more effectively. It is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

"Northern peatlands are an important source of greenhouse gases, but their capacity to produce methane remains uncertain under changing climatic conditions," the researchers concluded in their study published in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

Peatlands like fens and bons have been recently linked to global warming because methane is produced naturally in low-oxygen environments.

To determine the effect of climate to the production of methane gas in peatlands, the researchers took samples of water in pores in peat at various places across the Glacial Lake Agassiz peatlands in Northern Minnesota. They want to see how water moves solutes through the peat.

The findings of the study show that as the location's climate got wetter, precipitation pushed young carbon deeper into peatlands, doubling the size of methane-producing zones. Methane production is increased in areas dominated by sedges, which are grass-like plants.

The study sheds light on the importance of understanding certain changes in climate and their effect on peatlands.

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