Humans are continuing to alter the atmosphere by their activities and most human-induced methane comes from livestock and landfill. But what people might not know is that micro-organisms have been doing this for billions of years.
Microbes are responsible for producing the methane. Microbes found in wetlands produce 160 million tons of methane a year and microbes that live in termites release 20 million tons.
Microbes also play a role in the amount of carbon absorbed and released from the atmosphere by the ocean, which is about 90 million tons a year. The combination of primary production and microbial decomposition on land leads to 120 billion tons of carbon taken in every year and 119 billion tons of carbon released.
Dr. Reay claims, “The impact of these microbially-controlled cycles on future climate warming is potentially huge”. It is important to better understand these processes in order to take more carbon out of the atmosphere by using microbes in the sea as well as on land.
Bacteria can be used to catch methane that is released from landfill, Cyanobacteria could potentially provide us with hydrogen fuel, and plankton are continuing to become a feedstock for some biofuels. Either way, it is crucial to understand microbes in order to know whether they will help us to avoid climate change or will push us faster towards it.