Sulfate suppression of the wetland methane source in the 20th and 21st centuries

Gauci, Vincent; Matthews, Elaine; Dise, Nancy; Walter, Bernadette; Koch, Dorothy; Granberg, Gunnar and Vile, Melanie (2004). Sulfate suppression of the wetland methane source in the 20th and 21st centuries. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 101(34) pp. 12583–12587.




Natural wetlands form the largest source of methane (CH4) to the atmosphere. Emission of this powerful greenhouse gas from wetlands is known to depend on climate, with increasing temperature and rainfall both expected to increase methane emissions. This study, combining our field and controlled environment manipulation studies in Europe and North America, reveals an additional control: an emergent pattern of increasing suppression of methane (CH4) emission from peatlands with increasing sulfate (SO42- -S) deposition, within the range of global acid deposition. We apply a model of this relationship to demonstrate the potential effect of changes in global sulfate deposition from 1960 to 2080 on both northern peatland and global wetland CH4 emissions. We estimate that sulfur pollution may currently counteract climate-induced growth in the wetland source, reducing CH4 emissions by _15 Tg or 8% smaller than it would be in the absence of global acid deposition. Our findings suggest that by 2030 sulfur pollution may be sufficient to reduce CH4 emissions by 26 Tg or 15% of the total wetland source, a proportion as large as other components of the CH4 budget that have until now received far greater attention. We conclude that documented increases in atmospheric CH4 concentration since the late 19th century are likely due to factors other than the global warming of wetlands.

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