Plants do not emit methane  

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I originally read about this study on The Loom last week and I've wanted to write an article on it, but I've been pressed for time. He has a wonderful article up, so feel free to go read his. I'm going to summarize a lot of the same points.

Back in early 2006 a group of scientists published a study that claimed that plants release large amounts of methane.

Here we demonstrate using stable carbon isotopes that methane is readily formed in situ in terrestrial plants under oxic conditions by a hitherto unrecognized process. Significant methane emissions from both intact plants and detached leaves were observed during incubation experiments in the laboratory and in the field.


We suggest that this newly identified source may have important implications for the global methane budget and may call for a reconsideration of the role of natural methane sources in past climate change.

I don't have a subscription and so I can't read the full article, but I do remember the media attention it received. There were jokes and even some serious calls to cut down trees to solve the threat of global warming climate change.

Even after the science foundation who published the story issued a press release clarifying that plants were not responsible for global warming, the media reports continued, almost as a joke.

Last week a group of scientists released a new study available for free here with a press release here after re-examining the data of the original study. They concluded that methane emissions from plants are negligible. For a better look at what they mean by "negligible", less than the amount of CO2 an insect emits. Read the press release for a very clear synopsis of the study.

So far there has been very little buzz from the media. Carl at the Loom pointed out this may be due to many factors including the fact that it's not new information, simply a refutation of an earlier study, and also that the refutation was published in a more specialized journal, thus was read by fewer scientists and media in general.

Still, it negatively reflects on the media. Whether politics plays into it isn't as relevant as media's drive towards revenue by publishing only controversial or hot topic stories about science. (Although, to me, this seems like it would be a hot topic after the stir last year.)

Update: After I posted this I saw Carl's follow-up that Nature published an article about the refutation in their news section.

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