Diseased Trees could be a Dangerous Methane Offender

The latest statistics have become quite alarming. Sciencedaily.com posted an article recently that noted that July 2012 was the hottest month on record in the United States. That dates back to 1895, when statistics of this nature began to be kept. Combine that with the present drought, and it is easy to see how people are associating the phenomenon with global warming. Is this another case of the world slowly causing its own doom, or are there other factors at work. According to some scientists, trees could be playing as a detrimental factor.

These researchers are from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. They conducted a study on 60 trees contained in the Yale Myers Forest, which lies in the state of Connecticut. Their findings were both surprising and quite concerning. They found that older trees that are diseased are producing vast amounts of methane, sometimes at higher concentrations than those found naturally in the polluted air.

It is a shocking discovery, given the fact that trees produce oxygen for the planet. However, this positive is reduced by one-fifth, according to the researchers. In fact, the above article notes that in that Yale forest alone, “the estimated emission rate from an upland site at the Yale forest is roughly equivalent to burning 40 gallons of gasoline per hectare of forest per year. It also has a global warming potential equivalent to 18 percent of the carbon being sequestered by these forests, reducing their climate benefit of carbon sequestration by nearly one-fifth.”

Now that is a scary statistic and one that is obviously going on around the world. One of the disturbing parts about this is that it is a silent killer. That is because these trees can look perfectly healthy from the outside. Due to the fact that they are between 80 and 100 years old, most look like majestic structures, soaring into the sky. Ah, but inside the trunk is anything but serene. That is because the inside is being eaten away by a fungal infection that slowly eats through the trunk. In turn, it creates an environment that helps to produce methane-producing microorganisms called methanogens.

At this point, scientists do not have a solution to the problem. One can certainly not go about cutting every old tree down, wondering if they were an offender. Cutting into the tree may well cause the release of the bad gases. It should be noted that the highest methane concentrations were found in the red maple species, but oaks, birch, and pine also have the ability to create the methane. It is also not helping that heat ups the amount of gases that are emitted; thus the record heat in July could be causing even more harm to the thinning ozone.