Why measure natural sources of methane?

I often feel out of touch within the FluxLab. Lab meetings typically focus on changes to regulation and monitoring in the oil and gas industry and the implications for methane emissions, whereas my work is centered around measuring natural sources of methane, which occur during the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter. Oil and Gas emissions tend to be regarded as “low hanging fruit” for the largest reduction potential of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s easy to see the impact of my colleague’s work, while sometimes the importance of my work is less obvious. Even though natural sources of methane are much smaller than man-made sources, they still account for about 1/3 of global methane emissions – a significant portion with substantial consequences for the global climate.

Measuring flux rates from ecosystems all over the world is an incredibly complex and challenging task since seasonal variation can influence methane production. Typically, when studying and learning about natural sources of methane we can only quantify sources or improve our understanding of emission sources and rates. We don’t have the ability to reduce emissions directly, or swiftly.

Investigating natural sources of methane is just one piece of a larger puzzle of understanding how methane in the atmosphere will affect climate change.  The more scientists understand these influential factors, the better our ability to predict changes using climate models is and the more we can predict about how natural emissions will change under a warming climate. Climate change models are becoming more and more complex and accurate as scientists (like us) contribute invaluable information about natural processes to be incorporated in models.

Dan Wesley, PhD cand.

Our North West Territories field crew prepares to measure atmospheric methane at a site accessible by helicopter (2019)