Trees release flammable methane—here’s what that means for climate – National Geographic
This article was created in partnership with the National Geographic Society.In 1907, Francis W. Bushong, a chemistry professor at the University of Kansas, reported a novel finding in the journal Chemical and Physical Papers. He’d found methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, in a tree.Years earlier, he wrote, he’d cut down some cottonwood trees and “observed the formation of bubbles in the sap upon the freshly cut trunk, stump and chips.” When he struck a match, the gas ignited in a blue flame. At the university, he replicated the flame test on a campus cottonwood and this time captured gas samples. The concentration of methane was not much below the level measured in samples from Kansas’s natural gas fields.The finding was reported mainly as a novelty and faded into obscurity.Tree methane is back, in a big way.An expanding network of researchers has discovered methane flowing out of trees from the vast flooded forests of the Amazon basin to Borneo’s soggy peatlands, from temperate upland woods in Maryland and Hungary to forested mountain slopes in China.