Recently scientists from NASA and Open University in the United Kingdom set out to study how acid rain affects the methane gas that comes from wetlands in the U.S., England and Sweden.
Scientists went into natural wetlands because although most methane is produced by human activities, a large amount actually comes from natural wetlands. The concern with methane is that it’s a greenhouse gas that contributes to warming our planet. The researchers discovered that low levels of sulfate, which is in acid rain, actually block some bacteria found in wetlands from producing methane. Dr. Vincent Gauci of Open University, United Kingdom, lead author of the study, said "We wouldn’t want to give the impression that acid rain is a good thing - it has long been known that acid rain damages natural ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, rivers and lakes. But our findings suggest that small amounts of pollution may also have a positive effect in blocking this important greenhouse gas."
In the wetland study areas, scientists applied several quantities of sulfate, similar to the amounts found in acid rain. The results, acquired over several years, showed that low doses of sulfate reduced methane emissions by 30 to 40 percent. What determines how much methane is produced in wetlands? The answer lies under the microscope. Carbon, heat and moisture are known to influence methane production by single-celled bacteria called Archaea. Under normal conditions, these bacteria "eat" carbon in the soil for energy and release methane as a byproduct. But, many types of bacteria thrive in the wetland environment. When sulfate from acid rain is in wetlands, another type of bacteria that reduce sulfates can out-compete the Archaea, and help limit the amount of methane they produce.
Rob Gutro | EurekAlert!
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