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Methane, a gas that contributes to warming our planet, is produced by natural processes and human activities. Carbon, heat and moisture are known to influence methane production by members of the Archaea, single-celled creatures. Wetlands may produce as much as 320 million tons of methane annually but only about half of that, or 160 million tons, is ultimately released to the atmosphere. According to Matthews, by 1960 these counteracting processes probably reduced methane emission from wetlands to pre-industrial levels. In order to determine how the acid rain interacts with methane in wetlands, lead author of the study, Dr. Image to left: Coastal wetlands in the United States, as their name suggests, are found along the Atlantic, Pacific, Alaskan, and Gulf coasts.
Matthews and climate experts expect methane emissions to increase over the 21st century in response to climate change. Image to right: Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs. Most attention has been given to the negative aspects of pollution but if scientists want to understand all of Earth's complexities and make better predictions of future climate we need to understand interactions among a suite of processes that are not always well understood. While sulfate deposition results almost exclusively from human activities, it may serve to delay impacts from the increase of at least one greenhouse gas, methane, in the short term.


NASA's Science Directorate works to improve the lives of all humans through the exploration and study of Earth's system, the solar system and the Universe. Increased amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are warming the Earth beyond its average temperature. Under normal conditions, these microbes consume organic carbon in the soil for energy and release methane as a byproduct. Scientists have discovered that acid rain actually inhibits a bacteria found in swamplands from producing methane, a greenhouse gas. They are closely linked to our nation's estuaries, where sea water mixes with fresh water to form an environment of varying salinities. The effect more than compensates for the increase in methane emission that would be expected as wetlands become warmer.
An immense variety of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals can be part of a wetland ecosystem.
The researchers discovered that acid rain inhibits a swampland bacteria from producing methane, a greenhouse gas. Inland wetlands include marshes and wet meadows dominated by herbaceous plants, swamps dominated by shrubs, and wooded swamps dominated by trees. The salt water and the fluctuating water levels (due to tidal action) combine to create a rather difficult environment for most plants.


The authors have attempted to predict how this ecological balancing act will turn out for the 21st century. But our findings suggest that small amounts of pollution may also have a positive effect in suppressing this important greenhouse gas.
Physical and chemical features such as climate, landscape shape (topology), geology, and the movement and abundance of water help to determine the plants and animals that inhabit each wetland. Rather this study illuminates really well how we have to work to understand relationships among microscopic-to-global processes, at the same time that we attempt to represent them in relatively simple ways," Matthews said.
When acid rain drops sulfate onto wetlands, another type of bacteria, ones that reduce sulfate are able to outcompete the Archea, limiting the total production of methane. They applied several quantities of sulfate, similar to the amounts found in acid rain, to the wetlands they were studying. The complex, dynamic relationships among the organisms inhabiting the wetland environment are referred to as food webs. The results, acquired over several years, showed that these low doses of sulfate suppressed methane emissions between 30-40 percent.



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