Geoworld Spotlight

Leafy Methane  (Aug 2010)


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The results of a new study of plant methane emissions was published online in the journal New Phytologist on 28 April 2010 combining expertise from the School of GeoSciences, the School of Biological Sciences and the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research.

The study combines results from laboratory experiments with satellite data on the leaf coverage of the Earth's surface, ozone in the atmosphere, cloud cover, temperature, and information on sunshine levels to help work out the amount of methane produced by all plants on Earth.

The results suggest that plant leaves account for less than one per cent of the Earth's emissions of methane -which is considered to be about 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at global warming. The results refine previous studies that had indicated that the quantity of methane produced by plants might have been much higher. The findings confirm that trees are a useful way of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions, as their output of small amounts of methane is far outweighed by their capacity to store carbon from the atmosphere in their leaves, wood and bark.

Dr Andy McLeod, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, said: "Our results show that plant leaves do give rise to some methane, but only a very small amount - this is a welcome result as it allays fears that forestry and agriculture were contributing unduly to global warming." Future research will examine methane production from parts of plants other than leaves, and the amount of methane given off by different species of plants in different regions of the Earth.

The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and Forest Research.

Read the abstract: In the news: See also:

Contact: Dr Andy McLeod, School of GeoSciences, tel 0131 650 5434; andy.mcLeod@ed.ac.uk


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