But what we are learning, says Covey, is that the chemical interactions between trees and the atmosphere are extremely dynamic. The trees were emitting as much methane as all the tundra ecosystems of the Arctic, whose permafrost contains huge amounts of the gas — a store that is expected to be released in ever-greater quantities as the region warms and its soils thaw. “We found a consistent story that the trees all emit a lot of methane,” she says. “We know emissions from [non-wetland] trees are lower, but there is a far larger area of upland forests in the world to emit,” says Megonigal. He had pointed out in 2005 that remote sensing data from satellites suggested the Amazon was emitting twice as much methane as researchers on the ground could account for. Forest ecosystem methane (CH 4) research has focused on soils, but trees are also important sources and sinks in forest CH 4 budgets. But it is wet and there are trees. What can we do for you today? A third we didn’t know about at all until recently.”. “A large proportion of the volume of a tree stem is gas,” says Covey — anywhere between a quarter and half. waterlogged soils and sending it into the atmosphere. especially in the tropics. “We find a total footprint of 50-65 million tons of methane annually from wetland trees,” she says. For as well as emitting methane, trees also absorb the gas. Not least because it explained a long-standing data gap, first identified by hydrologist Christian Frankenberg, now at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. In 2017, Pangala published the findings from her Amazon expedition, during which she had travelled its tributaries and flooded forests, taking measurements of methane from surface water, floating aquatic plants, soils, and the stems and leaves of almost 2,400 trees in 13 floodplain locations. That does not mean that cutting down the world’s trees would cool the planet, however. The control over their emission and the possibility to deal with their excess is the main goal of many scientists. Tree TrimmingTree Removal. So if the world is to embark on a sustained program of reforesting the planet as a means to fight climate change, then “let’s choose trees with a small methane footprint.”, Her former supervisor at The Open University is on the case. But even so, some forests in the mid-latitudes may at times emit enough methane to negate the methane-absorbing capacity of their soils, turning their ecosystems from net methane sinks to net sources, says Megonigal. Recent research is showing that trees, especially in tropical wetlands, are a major source of the second most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, methane. “Trees are bioreactors”, says Gauci. Sign up for the E360 Newsletter →. Many trees emit methane at one level and the absorb it on another. What is causing the recent rise in methane emissions? In most places at most times, trees’ ability to absorb and store carbon dioxide trumps any contribution their methane emissions make to the atmosphere. Scientists never thought that trees would be involved in the methane problems we’re having right now. However, it doesn’t mitigate trees’ importance in our ecosystems and in mitigating climate change. “She closed the Amazon methane budget,” says Covey. How important is methane? This mental model equates a tree to a giant sponge that sops up carbon dioxide from the air. They were not keen to hear that trees might not be quite as good for the climate as they hoped. Every hectare of flooded forests was emitting several kilograms of methane each day. In fact, molecule for molecule, it is a much more potent planet-warmer than CO2. However, forests are traditionally good at absorbing the methane. The benefits that trees provide far outweigh their drawbacks. In fact, molecule for molecule, it is a much more potent planet-warmer than CO2. Around 20 million tons was simply unaccounted for. Now, trees don’t just emit the gas; they can also absorb it. When Pangala, then also at The Open University, made her first measurements of trees emitting methane in the swamps of Borneo, she had the same experience. So, almost all trees can absorb and emit this important greenhouse gas. Methane contributes to 17 % of the same, generated in marshlands, paddy fields & dams' water reservoirs. Nobody is arguing that trees are therefore bad for climate and should be cut down. “The mangroves are dense. So, almost all trees can absorb and emit this important greenhouse gas. Not all of that action is bad news. Amauri Aguiar/Flickr. our ecosystems and in mitigating climate change. After water vapor and carbo dioxide, it is the most important greenhouse gas. Overall, it’s interesting to note that trees emit methane especially in the tropics. Where did it come from? The benefits of trees outweigh Tropical wetlands, such as this mangrove forest in Bali, give off the most intense tree-based emissions of methane. But there are many natural sources, too, including microbial activity in wetlands, termites, the guts of ruminants, and, it now turns out, most of the world’s trees. The bottom line, says Pangala, is that almost all trees can both emit and absorb methane.
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