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Diseased Trees Producing Highly Concentrated Methane, Study Finds

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You may have never imagined that sick trees, attacked by a common methane-producing fungus are responsible for 10 percent of the potent greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. It’s an important discovery that will surely leave important decisions behind.

The research has been performed on 60 trees by Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies students, and found that while the normal concentration of methane in air should be less than 2 ppm (parts per million), diseased trees have an average of 15,000 ppm, with up to 80,000 ppm – flammable concentrations.

“Because the conditions thought to be driving this process are common throughout the world’s forests, we believe we have found a globally significant new source of this potent greenhouse gas,” said said Kristofer Covey, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. candidate at Yale.

Xuhui Lee, one of the study co-authors, and Sara Shallenberger, Yale meteorology professor, said that by extrapolating the findings to forests globally, the methane produced naturally in such trees could account for 10 percent of global emissions. They also mentioned that the trees emitting methane are 80 to 100 years old, and look healthy on the outside, while the fungus eats them on the inside and allowing methanogen bacteria to thrive.

Red maples were discovered to have the highest methane concentrations of all, followed by oak, birch and pine. They also found that during the summer the emissions are 3.1 times higher, which puts the process into a self-fueling one: more heat, more methane, increased greenhouse effect and so on.

Now, as far as I see things, this is a natural process. I don’t think the tree-eating fungus or the methanogen bacteria appeared overnight or are man-made, so there has to be a catch to it. This natural methane-emitting process may have its reasons of existence in a normal, balanced environment, since it was developed through billions of years. However, in today’s circumstances, any source of greenhouse gas, be it natural of artificial, can be safely seen as “bad.” And that includes diseased trees.

[via phys.org]

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