Where Does Methane Come From?

Methane is a chemical compound that is made up of hydrogen and carbon elements. Methane is colorless, odorless and is recorded in higher amounts relative to most other natural gases found in Earth’s atmosphere. Methane absorbs more heat than carbon dioxide and stays in the atmosphere for close to a decade. Although its naturally occurring, emitted by wetlands, oceans and methane-frozen crystals, (known as methane hydrates), methane also has anthropogenic sources.

trees against sky and clouds

Human Produced Methane

Human caused methane sources include fossil fuel burning, ruminants in agriculture and organic waste in landfills.

Fossil Fuels

Natural gases, coal and oil are fossil fuel energies that formed deep beneath the Earth’s surface over long periods of time. When fossil energies are burned, they release greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, water vapor and methane. These gases drive the atmospheric greenhouse effect and exacerbate global warming on land and in oceans.

Agriculture

Anthropogenically produced methane from agriculture comes from livestock animals. Livestock ruminants, like cattle, buffalo, goats and deer have digestive tracts which contain microbes known as methanogens that metabolize plant substances in their diets. Methanogens in ruminant animals produce methane and is then released when these animals belch. This process is known as enteric fermentation. Ruminants, particularly cattle, are mass-bred in agriculture settings, making their methane emissions much more significant than those of naturally occurring populations.

Landfills

Landfill gas is the byproduct of decomposing organic material. As bacteria from food and waste products break down, gases are subsequently released into the air. Landfills gases include methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen. Methane from landfills is of high concern; the state of California has implemented a long term plan to limit the amount of waste that ends up in landfills in order to decrease its annual methane emissions; its plan is known as SB1383.

Conclusion

Humanity can not afford to rely on natural gas as its primary source of energy. If we continue to burn methane, we will upset the natural balance of these gases present in Earth’s atmosphere. Unless we can ambitiously reduce our use of methane and other greenhouse gases-which will require dramatic economic and technological shifts- the heating impact associated of such gases will continue. This includes rising surface and ocean temperatures, increased sea-level rises and more frequent extreme weather events.

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