Aquatic methane is emerging as a primary cause of climate change
Gaia could be humming a tune called “We’ve been here before, folks!” She could be crying tears of frustration, but probably not. After all, this planet has been around for some time, during which climatic shifts have happened. One event, which we humans refer to as the Great Permian extinction event, saw 94% of species die out. That one occurred over the course of 300,000 years, though. Plenty of time for the species in question to have prepped for their demise. Not so right now.
During the Great Permian Extinction Event, the planet’s temperature increased by 10 degrees centigrade. Even that doesn’t sound like an unbearable number, until you add it up. Take a not-untypical summer day, where the thermostat reads 39C / 102F. Simple addition puts you at 49C /120F. Even prodigious zucchini won’t come through that heat.
Coral doesn’t either. It dies off at around 101F. Only the most resilient species passes such a temperature swing off as “just another heat wave.” We humans are versatile and resilient. We live on every continent. We might as well be the ubiquitous cockroach, for our adaptability. A government trapper I met once predicted that at the end of this current extinction event there would be three critters interfacing on some bald knob…cockroaches, coyotes, and human beings. If there’s a fourth, I vote for zucchini!
Humans try to control bio-slime. Hammering it with toxic chemicals is a preferred approach. And sure, the poison kills it. But then it settles onto the bottom of the waterway, providing feedstock for methanogens, that generate methane. This is perfect, for the cyanobacteria. It cycles into more climate warming, as methane is 81 times more effective than regular carbon dioxide. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!
Here’s an interesting tidbit. If the waterway being treated doesn’t have quite enough copper in its diet, instead of producing methane, such systems instead generate nitrous oxide. Laughing gas, which dwarfs methane’s impact in terms of climate change. Think 300 times more impactful than carbon dioxide.
So here’s the good news…we know how to steward water gracefully. We actually have lots of examples of such stewardship. And no, it doesn’t include toxic chemical treatment.
Fresh water will be the first habitat to succumb to poor stewardship. It is essentially the transition habitat between terrestrial and marine life. The bad news is that it is extremely vulnerable to degradation. The good news is that it responds to graceful stewardship quickly.
Even though fresh water only covers 6% of Gaia’s surface, it is a marker for how we humans are doing. If it is healthy, so are we. If instead it’s been allowed to degrade into nothing other than a methane factory, it will presage our demise.
The incidence of reported HABs in 2016 (left) and in 2021 (right) - (CyanoMap).
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