Microbes, not fossil fuels, produced most new methane

Microbes, not fossil fuels, produced most new methane


Methane, one of the potent greenhouse gas, has become a crucial focus for researchers worldwide.

  • Through complex simulations and analyses, scientists are delving into the earth’s atmospheric changes over the past 50 years to unravel the mystery of methane’s increasing presence.


GS-03 (Science and technology, Conservation, Environment)

Facts for Prelims:

  • Coal Bed Methane (CBM) is a kind of natural gas that can be extracted from coal deposits. It is a significant unconventional gas that naturally occurs in coal beds and is being exploited for commercial and industrial applications. especially in sectors like cement, steel plants, rolling mills, and methanol production.
  • Initiatives to Curb Greenhouse Gas Emission:
    • Kyoto Protocol
    • Paris Agreement
    • International Solar Alliance
    • Global Biofuel Alliance

Dimensions of the Article:

  • What is Methane and its Significance
  • The New Study and Understanding
  • Methanogens
  • Key Takeaways

What is Methane and its Significance:

  • Methane, the second most abundant greenhouse gas which is responsible for 30% of global warming in the planet.
  • Though less common than carbon dioxide, it’s significantly more effective at trapping heat, contributing to climate change.
  • Methane emissions come from both natural and human-caused sources. Natural sources include: wetlands, oceans, and geological seepage.
  • Human activities that release methane into the atmosphere include: agriculture, fossil fuel extraction, waste management, and biomass burning.
  • Methane emissions are also a concern because they contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, a hazardous air pollutant and greenhouse gas. Exposure to ground-level ozone is associated with approximately 1 million premature deaths annually.
  • Recently, attention has shifted towards methane emissions as nations aim to tackle global warming. Unlike carbon dioxide, methane’s sources are diverse, with natural processes and human activities both playing significant roles.

The New Study and Understanding:

  • Recent research has shed light on methane’s sources and behavior. Surprisingly, microbes, rather than fossil fuel burning, emerged as the primary contributors to atmospheric methane levels.
  • These microbes, called methanogens, thrive in various environments, from animal guts to wetlands, converting organic matter into methane.
  • By analyzing methane isotopes, researchers could distinguish between biogenic and thermogenic sources, offering insights into methane’s origins.


  • Methanogens are methane generating microorganisms which are capable of generating methane as a metabolic by product.
  • They do not require oxygen to live and are widely distributed in nature.
  • They are found in swamps, dead organic matter, and even in the human gut.
  • Methanogenesis:
    • Methanogenesis is the process through which methanogens convert acetate, formate, methylamines, and methanol into methane.
    • It is an anaerobic respiration process that produces methane as a product.
    • It is also the final step of the decay of organic matter.
    • Example of methanogens: Methanobacterium.

Key Takeaways:

  • The study, conducted with international collaboration, revealed intriguing findings.
  • Contrary to previous assumptions, it discovered that methane emissions from fossil fuels had actually declined since the 1990s, while microbial sources surged.
  • However, discrepancies with existing emissions inventories highlighted the need for more accurate data collection and analysis. Localized measurements are crucial for pinpointing methane hotspots and guiding targeted mitigation efforts.


While the study advances our understanding of methane dynamics, it underscores the complexity of mitigating its emissions. Addressing methane’s impact on climate change requires a multifaceted approach, including improved monitoring, policy interventions, and scientific collaboration to safeguard our planet’s future.