Methane is the simplest member of the paraffin series of hydrocarbons and is among the most potent of the greenhouse gases. Methane, colorless, odorless gas that occurs abundantly in nature and as a product of certain human activities. Plants are one of these sources. Environmental scientists from The Open University (OU) have discovered that trees growing in the Amazon floodplains surrounding the Amazon River emit as much methane … Because methane is such a potent greenhouse gas, Cregger says, it's important to see how much of it the trees are actually producing. Even though respiration does not directly benefit the environment, trees still absorb far more harmful carbon dioxide than they release, thanks to the process of photosynthesis. An expanding network of researchers has discovered methane flowing out of trees from the vast flooded forests of the Amazon basin to Borneo’s soggy peatlands, from temperate upland woods in Maryland and Hungary to forested mountain slopes in China. While trees do not technically breathe, respiration is comparable to inhaling air into the lungs, and photosynthesis is comparable to exhaling. Just as trees and oceans may not always be able to absorb CO2, forest soils may not always be able to take up methane and keep it out of the atmosphere. Sixty trees sampled at Yale Myers Forest in northeastern Connecticut contained concentrations of methane that were as high as 80,000 times ambient levels. There are more natural sources of the greenhouse gas methane than previously known to science. Methane is a simple gas, a single carbon atom with four arms of hydrogen atoms. “If we are going to stabilise the atmospheric concentration of methane, we are going to have to work harder to control anthropogenic sources such as leaks from natural gas extraction.” Travelling across 13 locations within the Amazon floodplain where trees are sometimes flooded by up to 10m, we deployed chambers that collect methane, allowing us to measure methane emissions from aquatic surfaces, exposed soils, plants and – new for measurement campaigns in the Amazon – the stems and leaves of flooded trees.

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