Climate study backs plants

Plants remain an effective way to tackle global warming despite emitting small amounts of greenhouse gas.

Research led by the University suggests that plant leaves account for less than one per cent of the Earth’s emissions of methane.

The gas is considered to be about 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at global warming.

Results from the study contrast with previous scientific research that had suggested that plants were responsible for producing large amounts of the greenhouse gas.

Effective offsetting

The findings confirm that trees are a useful way of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

Complex methods

To reach their conclusions, scientists created artificial leaves made from plant pectin and measured the methane produced when the leaves were exposed to sunlight.

They combined their results with satellite data on the leaf coverage of the Earth’s surface, ozone in the atmosphere, cloud cover, and temperature.

This was collated with information on sunshine levels to help work out the amount of methane produced by all plants on Earth.

Their results refine previous studies that had indicated that the quantity of methane produced by plants might have been much higher.

Further studies

Future research will examine methane production from parts of plants other than leaves.

Scientists will also examine the amount of methane given off by different species of plants in different regions of the Earth.

The research, carried out in collaboration with the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research, was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and Forest Research, and is published in the journal New Phytologist.

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.

Dr Andy McLeodSchool of GeoSciences