Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 143-161

First online:

Methane emissions from natural wetlands

  • Zhengping WangAffiliated withWetland Biogeochemistry Institute, Louisiana States University
  • , Dong ZengAffiliated withWetland Biogeochemistry Institute, Louisiana States University
  • , William H. PatrickJr.Affiliated withWetland Biogeochemistry Institute, Louisiana States University

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Methane is considered one of the most important greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Because of the strict anaerobic conditions required by CH4-generating microorganisms, natural wetland ecosystems are one of the main sources of biogenic CH4. The total natural wetland area is estimated to be 5.3 to 5.7 × 1012 m2, making up less than 5% of the Earth's land surface. However, natural wetland plays a disproportionately large role in CH4 emissions. Wetlands are likely the largest natural sources of CH4 to the atmosphere, accounting for about 20% of the current global annual emission. Out of the total amount of CH4 emitted, northern wetlands contribute 34%, temperate wetlands 5%, and tropical systems about 60%.

Because of the unique characteristics and high productivity, wetland ecosystems are important in the global carbon cycle. Natural wetlands are permanently or temporarily saturated. Strict anaerobic conditions consequently develop, which allows methanogenesis to occur. But the thin oxic layer and the oxic plant rhizophere promote activity of CH4-oxidizing bacteria or methanotrophs. Thus, both CH4 formation and consumption in wetland systems are microbiological processes and are controlled by many factors. Eight of the controlling factors, including carbon supply, soil oxidation-reduction status, pH, temperature, vegetation, salinity and sulfate content, soil hydrological conditions and CH4 oxidation are discussed in this paper.