Global Methane Emissions Soaring, But How Much Was Due to Wetlands?


A Q&A with Berkeley Lab scientist William Riley on the challenges in estimating methane emissions from wetlands and how nuanced computer models may help.

Last month, an international team of scientists, including Berkeley Lab’s William Riley and Qing Zhu, published an update on the global methane budget as part of the Global Carbon Project. They estimated annual global methane emissions at nearly 570 million tons for the 2008 to 2017 decade, which is 5% higher than emissions recorded for the early 2000s and the equivalent of 189 million more cars on the world’s roads.

Anthropogenic sources like agriculture, waste, and fossil fuels contributed to 60% of these emissions, while wetlands made up for the largest natural source of methane. Riley, a Berkeley Lab senior scientist, focuses on modelling how terrestrial ecosystems – such as wetlands – interact with climate. Working with Zhu, they built one of the computer models that allows scientists to quantify these methane emissions from wetlands at global scale.

Although global wetland methane emissions remained largely unchanged between the last decade and the early 2000s, these landscapes have continued to introduce some of the greatest uncertainties in estimating the global methane budget. Riley explains his team’s involvement in the Global Carbon Project and their efforts to reduce this uncertainty.

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Image via Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory