Responses of atmospheric methane consumption by soils to global climate change

Gary M. King, University of Maine


Soils consume about 40 Tg methane from the atmosphere annually. Thus, soils contribute significantly to the atmospheric methane budget. However, responses of atmospheric methane consumption to climate change are uncertain. Predicting these responses requires an understanding of the effect on methane consumption of specific variables (temperature and soil water content) as well as interactions among parameters (methane, ammonium, water content). Key considerations involve the limitations of diffusive transport and controls of methane diffusivity; limitation of methanotrophic activity by water stress; relatively slow growth rates of methane-oxidizing bacteria on atmospheric methane; ammonium toxicity. Interactions among these parameters may be particularly important, and lead to responses contrary to those predicted from changes in temperature and water content alone. Results from a number of analyses indicate that atmospheric methane consumption is especially sensitive to anthropogenic disturbances, which typically decrease activity. Continued increases in wet and dry ammonium deposition are likely to exacerbate inhibition resulting from changes in land use. Changes in hydrological regimes could further decrease activity if dry periods increase water stress at soil depths currently colonized by methanotrophs. Future trends in the soil methane sink are likely to lead to enhanced accumulation of atmospheric methane. © 1997 Blackwell Science Ltd.