The best argument yet for draining wetlands

From the University of Guelph

Wetlands Likely to Blame for Greenhouse Gas Increases

A surprising recent rise in atmospheric methane likely stems from wetland emissions, suggesting that much more of the potent greenhouse gas will be pumped into the atmosphere as northern wetlands continue to thaw and tropical ones to warm, according to a new international study led by a University of Guelph researcher.

The study supports calls for improved monitoring of wetlands and human changes to those ecosystems – a timely topic as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change prepares to examine land use impacts on greenhouse gas emissions, says Prof. Merritt Turetsky, Department of Integrative Biology.

Turetsky is the lead author of a paper published today in Global Change Biology based on one of the largest-ever analyses of global methane emissions. The team looked at almost 20,000 field data measurements collected from 70 sites across arctic, temperate and tropical regions.

Agnieszka Kotowska, a former master’s student, and David Olefeldt, a post-doc at Guelph, also were among 19 study co-authors from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland, Germany and Sweden.

One of the strongest greenhouse gases, methane comes from agriculture and fossil fuel use, as well as natural sources such as microbes in saturated wetland soils.

The amount of atmospheric methane has remained relatively stable for about a decade, but concentrations began to rise again in 2007. Scientists believe this increase stems partly from more methane being released from thawing northern wetlands.

Scientists have assumed that wetland methane release is largest in the tropics, said Turetsky.

“But our analyses show that northern fens, such as those created when permafrost thaws, can have emissions comparable to warm sites in the tropics, despite their cold temperatures. That’s very important when it comes to scaling methane release at a global scale.”

The study calls for better methods of detecting different types of wetlands and methane release rates between flooded and drained areas.

Fens are the most common type of wetland in Canada, but we lack basic scientific approaches for mapping fens using remote sensing products, she said.

“Not only are fens one of the strongest sources of wetland greenhouse gases, but we also know that Canadian forests and tundra underlain by permafrost are thawing and creating these kinds of high methane-producing ecosystems.”

Most methane studies focus on measurements at a single site, said co-author Narasinha Shurpali, University of Eastern Finland. “Our synthesis of data from a large number of observation points across the globe is unique and serves an important need.”

The team showed that small temperature changes can release much more methane from wetland soils to the atmosphere. But whether climate change will ramp up methane emissions will depend on soil moisture, said Turetsky.

Under warmer and wetter conditions, much more of the gas will be emitted. If wetland soils dry out from evaporation or human drainage, emissions will fall – but not without other problems.

In earlier studies, Turetsky found drying peatlands can spark more wildfires.

Another study co-author, Kim Wickland, United States Geological Survey, said, “This study provides important data for better accounting of how methane emissions change after wetland drainage and flooding.”

Methane emissions vary between natural and disturbed or managed wetlands, says Wickland, who has helped the IPCC improve methods for calculating greenhouse gas emissions from managed wetlands.

Turetsky holds a Canada Research Chair in Integrative Ecology. She and her students examine how ecosystems regulate climate in field sites in Canada and Alaska.

47 thoughts on “The best argument yet for draining wetlands

  1. I must say I’m surprised that people describing themselves as ‘integrative ecologists’ focus on only one variable in their studies………

  2. They’re simply ignoring ‘the pause’ and its implications and carrying on regardless.
    Fascinating.

  3. Mmmm, that reminds me. I must teach my partner about the consequences of her dutch ovens at night.

  4. Have I observed one teeny weeny itsy bitsy flaw in this study? There has been no statistically significant global warming for 17 years & 6 months! So why are methane levels suddenly rising (2007) when they stabilized ages ago? Curious how when they had possibly detected that atmospheric methane levels were rising, that gas was lumped in with “greenhouse” gases. When levels stabilized, they dropped it like the proverbial hot potato!!! Now it’s back on the menu folks! I’ll give it to them, they just don’t know when to quit, do they, as long as the income stream remains in place, of course!

  5. 28 April: Moyers&Co: Simon Davis-Cohen: Young People Are Taking the Government to Court Over Its Failure to Address Climate Change
    This post first appeared in The Nation.
    In an unprecedented federal court case that has made it to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, young people from California are suing the Environmental Protection Agency and Departments of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Defense under the historic “public trust doctrine” for failing to devise a climate change recovery plan. In their legal brief, they argue, “Failure to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and protect and restore the balance of the atmosphere is a violation of Youth’s constitutionally protected rights and is redressable by the Courts.”…
    The public trust doctrine has its roots in antiquity, deriving from the Roman “Code of Justinian.” Elizabeth Brown of Our Children’s Trust, the group coordinating the legal effort, explains that the doctrine represents a duty for all sovereigns to safeguard public resources that future generations will depend on for survival. It is an “attribute of sovereignty,” “implicit in our constitution,” she says…
    In tandem with the federal lawsuit, similar efforts by American youth, also guided by Our Children’s Trust, are aimed at state agencies in Alaska, New Mexico, Oregon and Texas.
    In an amicus brief in the federal case, a group of sympathetic law professors explained that a legislature cannot deprive “a future legislature of the natural resources necessary to provide for the well-being and survival of its citizens….

    http://billmoyers.com/2014/04/28/young-people-are-taking-the-government-to-court-over-its-failure-to-address-climate-change/

    Our Children’s Trust
    Partner and Supporting Individuals:
    Dr. James Hansen, Dr. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Dr. Sivan Kartha, Dr. Pushker Kharecha, Dr. David Lobell, Dr. Arjun Makhijani, Dr. Jonathan Overpeck, Dr. Camille Parmesan, Dr. Stefan Rahmstorf, Dr. Steven Running, Dr. James Gustave Speth, Dr. Kevin Trenberth, Dr. Lise Van Susteren…etc etc etc etc…

    http://ourchildrenstrust.org/our-partners

  6. Short-sighted crap. Right, drain the wetlands, they say. Like the mangrove swamps that can serve as protection again storm surges when typhoons like Yolanda make landfall?

  7. Wetlands may well contribute to methane emissions, in fact I am sure they do but so do ruminants and rainforests and many other ecosystem elements. How about we just let these things alone and not panic about methane in the atmosphere rather than start a hysteria about ‘methane pollution’ compounding with ‘carbon pollution’. What we actually have is intellectual pollution by AGW alarmnists.

  8. Another claim based on a theory that as yet remains unverified and still violates the laws of thermodynamics. I blame a degrading of science teaching in schools and refusing to let children do experiments for Health and Safety reasons.

  9. If they weren’t doing this research they would be competing with the kids to work at Hungry Jacks. There will come a time, shortly I hope, when the great tap will be turned off or the stream redirected to something important. This poor petal will then become a janitor or some such. After all who in the private sector would fund such useless rubbish?

  10. There have been many Goreball warming and cooling scares in the past. We didn’t do much about it in the past and we should stop panicking now. It will soon be over.

  11. “A surprising recent rise in atmospheric methane likely stems from wetland emissions…”

    Hmm… Since wetlands have been producing methane for billions of years with no resulting problem, if there has been a recent rise in atmospheric methane, either wetlands are not the source, or no one should be surprised.

  12. The number of overall wetlands have been rapidly decreasing – or so the fear-mongers keep telling us.

    Its stupid – wetlands are natural, and necessary – for wildlife and for natural water treatment …

  13. Could a move to drain wetlands cause a split between warmists and ecoligists. I fear a huge increase in split personality disorder.

  14. So EU requirements to “restore” “natural habitats”, which led to the department for the environment engineering the conditions that ended with the flooding of the somerset levels, are now officially a bad thing?

    Or is it good when we do it, but bad when nature does it?

    I’m confused.

  15. Wetlands, I would have thought the melting permafrost is going to be a bigger problem!

    Siberian permafrost thaw warning sparked by cave data

    ‘Evidence from Siberian caves suggests that a global temperature rise of 1.5C could see permafrost thaw over a large area of Siberia.

    A study shows that more than a trillion tonnes of the greenhouse gases CO2 and methane could be released into the atmosphere as a result.

    An international team has published details in the journal Science.

    The evidence comes from analysis of stalactites and stalagmites in caves along the “permafrost frontier”.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21549643

  16. Agriculture is briefly mentioned in the post as a source of methane and it is cattle that are most often vilified as the main sources of methane in agriculture. I have a particular interest in this issue. When cattle – and other ruminant animals – are vilified in this way it is always on the implied assumption that the substances in the methane they produce are somehow new to the atmosphere. They are not. Neither the carbon or the hydrogen in the methane molecule came from the ground – they came from the atmosphere.

    A methane molecule (CH4) has one atom of carbon and four atoms of hydrogen. Because it contains carbon it would qualify under the adherents of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis as a ‘carbon’ gas. This, according to these proponents is something terribly new and terribly awful. But these people always fail to acknowledge that the carbon atom in each methane molecule comes from the atmosphere in the first place. It comes into a plant by photosynthesis driven by solar energy. When the animal gives off methane it returns that methane atom to the atmosphere – the place where it came from in the first place. After a period of time, the methane model oxidises and the carbon atom in it reverts to a carbon atom in a carbon dioxide molecule. In other words, it reverts to EXACTLY the same form it was in the atmosphere before the photosynthesis in the plant took place. Thus is set up an endlessly repeating and balanced atmospheric cycle.

    In short, there is no new addition to the carbon load in the atmosphere as a result of a cow – or other ruminant – eating grass.

    Methane produced by plants and animals (more precisely, bacteria in the life cycle of the plants and animals) is a totally natural and organic gas. It is a natural and organic part of the atmospheric carbon cycle. In the final analysis, methane is a result of the fact that, each day, the Earth receives solar energy from the sun. This solar energy sets off the atmospheric carbon cycle and the atmospheric water cycle. Put these two things together and, somewhere along the line, you get methane. It has been happening for billions of cycles and is nothing to fear. All the hype about the so-called enormous extra global warming potential of methane is just that – hype.

  17. I would like to see a photo of a “thawing wetland”. The ones I’ve seen in Northern Canada thaw and freeze every year.

  18. Er, well if there has been increased greenhouse gases, which there has, and if they cause increase in termperature, then why has the temperature stayed the same?

    Perhaos the answer is because the asymptote has been reached due to saturation. Further addition of greenhouse gases will not produce further increases in temperature.

  19. “Under warmer and wetter conditions, much more of the gas (methane) will be emitted.”
    OK, the study says wet wetlands are bad.

    “In earlier studies, Turetsky found drying peatlands can spark more wildfires.”
    OK, previous studies said dry wetlands are bad.

    So… it’s all bad no matter what. Well, this’ll pass peer review easily…

  20. “…If wetland soils dry out from evaporation or human drainage, emissions will fall – but not without other problems.”

    Other problems? They are dead right. Wetlands are relatively cool and chuck out much less heat than dry land. It is beyond annoying that the only ‘currency’ in this sorry debate about climate is the affect of ‘greenhouse’ gases. It is looking like a dreadful distraction.

  21. I found this:

    “A 2006 UN FAO report reported that livestock generate more greenhouse gases as measured in CO2 equivalents than the entire transportation sector. Livestock accounts for 9 percent of anthropogenic CO2, 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide and 37 percent of anthropogenic methane. A senior UN official and co-author of the report, Henning Steinfeld, said “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_methane

    Interesting to note that they equate cow “emissions” as “anthropogenic” (‘man-made’).

    I wonder what my fellow ruminants think of that…

  22. The methane released from this Professor’s backside contains more intelligence than written in his words. He clearly has no understanding of engineering science or science data. Yes, bogs and rotting vegetation (including human rubbish tips) do emit methane but this has no effect (repeat no effect) on the atmosphere. Please look at my post http://cementafriend.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/methane-good-or-bad/ and reply if you can prove that the facts given there are wrong. – methane absorbs less radiant energy than does CO2. Quoting some green inspired publications is not proof. Measurement is the only proof.

  23. The IPCC ‘preparing to examine’ something in and of itself is far more frightening than snail farts.

  24. BruceC says:
    April 29, 2014 at 12:56 am

    Mmmm, that reminds me. I must teach my partner about the consequences of her dutch ovens at night.

    Tell him/her/it to lay off the brussel sprouts.

  25. It’s too damn cold in Boston today!
    Not that that means anything, which it would . . . if it was too damn hot.

  26. Yes, they’re going to “manage” the world’s ecosystems; wonderful. Just as they’ve managed the world’s economies into a shambles, and we have evidence of how much damage has been caused by previous management of ecosystems, such as our forests.

    These damned people need to learn to just keep their hands to themselves and stop being so arrogant as to think humans can manage natural systems (including the economy). But alas, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

  27. May as well drain all the swamps. Swamp People and Gator Boys are so passe’. The government has a plan to tax cow farts to save us, but as yet I fail to see a way to tax termites. Give’em time.

  28. I thought the GHG contribution by methane was largely irrelevant in the presence of water vapor because the spectral absorption qualities of methane overlay that for water vapor which therefore swamps methane’s affect?

  29. Clearly we need a Swamp Tax. Since the tax code is a bit of a swamp already, it ought to be easy to implement.

  30. As I understand it methane forms less than 2 molecules per million molecules of the atmosphere. What is the fuss about?

  31. Finally! I can drain that darn wetland in my back yard. And when town comes complaining, I’ll claim that I’m saving the world and point them to gold standard of science – peer reviewed article that is saying how evil those things are.
    Yea!

  32. “Drain the wetlands”

    Don’t forget to drain the rice fields.

    With global temperatures rising as a result of climate change, the emission of methane — which traps about 25 times more of the Sun’s heat than carbon dioxide — will play a greater part in the global carbon budget than it does now, says Butenhoff. Based on the temperature-increase projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he and his colleagues estimate that methane emission from paddies in China could go up by a further 2.5 million tonnes by 2100. “This is a massive amount,” he says. “We can’t even get an estimate for India because the [methane] emission would be so high it’s off the chart.”

  33. Adam (Apr 29 5:14 am ) gets it in one: “if there has been increased greenhouse gases, which there has, and if they cause increase in termperature, then why has the temperature stayed the same?“. If this latest paper on methane is correct, then it demonstrates that climate sensitivity to GHGs is lower than previously thought.

  34. Even if you buy into recent surface temperature rise being as a result of increased greenhouse gasses, methane is an irrelevant gas in the theoretical causes.

    Methane (CH4) has only two narrow absorption bands at 3.3 microns and 7.5 microns in the radiation spectrum. Theoretically, CH4 is 20 times more effective an absorber than CO2 – in those bands. However, CH4 is only 0.00017% (1.7 parts per million) of the atmosphere. Moreover, both of its bands occur at wavelengths where H2O is already absorbing virtually all energy. Because water vapor is much more plentiful in the atmosphere than methane (or any other GHG), H­2O absorbs vastly more energy and is by far the most important greenhouse gas. On any given day, H2O is a percent or two of the atmosphere (1.0-2.0% or 5,882 to 11,764 times as prevalent as methane in the atmosphere); we call that humidity. Hence, any radiation that CH4 might absorb has already been absorbed by H2O in the only radiation bands methane absorbs energy. Once the energy in a band of the spectrum has been sucked dry, no additional absorptive gas can absorb more. Painting a black window another coat will not keep out more light. In other words, the ratio of the percentages of water to methane is such that the effects of CH4 are completely masked by H2O because the absorption of infrared energy in the bands of the spectrum affected by methane has already been saturated by H2O absorption. The amount of CH4 would have to increase 100-fold to make it comparable to H2O.

    From a recent WUWT article—

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/04/11/methane-the-irrelevant-greenhouse-gas/

  35. Canada (the country-of-origin of this report) has a clear interest in ‘draining wetlands’. As do Alaska, Siberia, Russia and Scandinavia.

    Preservationists want to declare the Boreal or Taiga zone (much of which is minimally-developed) off-limits. It’s the new ‘Amazon Rainforest’. ‘Set aside’, er, protect the whole thing. And our established geopolitical players in the temperate zone to the south can readily do the math … which shows that a better-developed higher-latitudes zone would become a serious competitor.

    Most “draining” etc has historically been about agriculture. Forestry could also benefit dramatically in the north, by modifying the very prevalent & extensive adverse ‘wetlands’ chemistry. Both of these (ag & timber) are quite-sensitive economic & political areas.

    Canada & Russia et al have long had a belly-full of being on the short & crappy end of the ‘gratuituous Preservationism’ stick. They are reliable allies of the WUWT orientation & philosophy … and we see this rather often, in their formal science-work.

    This will be a topic worth watching.

  36. On a related note, how much methane is NOT being released right now because of all the wetlands humans already drained??? In my rough way I attempted to answer this before, and certainly dont take my word for it, but it appeared to me the methane we release now would have been dwarfed by those wetlands we already drained.

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