You Know About Cow Farts, but How About Tree Farts? #nature #biology #climatechange #forest #trees

Over 100 years ago, a chemist in Kansas documented that cottonwood sap contained methane bubbles. He could light escaping gas and watch a blue flame flicker. Others discovered that not only cottonwoods produce the gas.

Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and today, thanks to global warming, we need to understand the ins and outs of methane in the atmosphere. New studies show:

Many instances in which trees produce their own methane—sometimes from microbes in the heartwood or other tissues and in other cases from a remarkable direct photochemical reaction thought to be driven by the ultraviolet wavelengths in sunlight. NatGeo

Measuring methane emissions from tundra

Measuring methane and CO2 emisisons from arctic tundra

Life writes its name with methane, which is why methane on Mars is so exciting. On Earth, methane is released from fossil fuels, microbes in soggy soil like bogs and rice paddies, and (as you know) cattle. Human activities accelerate emissions – sometimes, we do in a year what nature does in centuries.

Methanotroph microbes also break down methane. The life expectancy of an average methane molecule is a few decades.

Trees emit methane and break it down by hosting the wily microbes and also on their own. The balance depends on the tree and soil conditions, but there are “forests where similar trees in similar soils have been measured with a fiftyfold difference in methane emissions… [Forests] in wet soils uniformly were net emitters of methane but those in drier conditions in some regions actually were net absorbers of the gas.”

One scientists said that what we know today is a third grader’s cartoon drawing of a forest.”

None of this means trees are bad! Trees good. Forests good. But learning more about Earth’s methane cycle will improve our models and, if we’re smart enough, help us hand a beautiful world to our progeny.


We’ll Find We’re Not Alone – a poem by Kate Rauner



Hydrothermal vents are able to support extremophile bacteria on Earth and may also support life in other parts of the cosmos.

We will find we’re not alone,
The proof is at our finger tips.
We have the means, robotic craft
Extend our touch on epic trips.
We know where round the Sun to look,
Know how to search for traces.
Moons and planets wait for us,
Within our reach are many places.
No wormholes, warping space required,
No need for hyperdrives.
Technology is here today
To find unearthly lives.
With chemistries like ours – or strange,
Not likely grays or bug-eyed men,
Expected small, but bodies huge
Are not beyond imagining.
Mars only lost his oceans
A million years ago.
Solar winds stripped air away,
And with it, oceans go.
But liquid water blankets
Some moons of Jupiter.
Beneath their crusts of ice,
Hordes of life may stir.
To feed on broth by magma brewed
May be an easy strategy.
Get energy not from the Sun,
But twisted tides of gravity.
And Callisto,
Or methane lakes on Titan,
Life free from H2O.
Geysers may toss microbes high,
Bouquets to passing hands,
Till we can pierce a mile of ice
To meet them in their lands.
To find that life is commonplace
Will not diminish me,
But will expand my mind and soul
And all that I can be.

“I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years,” Ellen Stofan, chief scientist for NASA, said at a public panel Tuesday in Washington. “We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology.”

That would be amazing, astounding, awesome… and that’s just the “a” words I can think of. Extraterrestrial life is discussed in many places, for example, , , or wikipedia extraterrestrial life

For me, even a real microbe will be better than all the movies put together – reality always trumps fantasy.

The Smell of Life #poem #poetry #NASA #Mars #science

Methane can be made by lifeCuriosity_Rover_Arm_Camera
Or hydrothermal systems,
By microbes in the regolith
Or from the rocks, if not them.
Methane doesn’t last for long
Floating in the atmosphere.
Tens of decades, then it’s gone,
Reacting in the sunlight there.
What Curiosity has found,
Unexpected and delighted,
A whiff arising from the ground
Has scientists excited.
It doesn’t mean that there is life
Or that there was in past
It means we have a lot to learn
Before we’ll know at last.
What difference would it make to us?
Bugs aren’t likely to converse.
Even if they share our Sun,
Are we better off or worse?
I for one would thrill to know,
To find conclusive data.
Even if it pays no gold,
Life will always matter.

by Kate Rauner

A couple wisps of methane found on Mars. It might be geochemistry, and there’s more to learn about that, too. But it could indicate the existence of life. Stay tuned.

Huffingtonpost, NYtimes, and many other sources

Microbe Massacre – a poem by Kate Rauner

Permian-Lystrosaurus georgi


The Great Permian Dying,
A quarter billion years ago,
Ended life’s early phase
And opened up Meso.
Nine in ten forms were gone
Earth almost lost her soul.
Not land or sea protected them;
Life slipped from her foothold.
Attacks by hostile aliens?
Or pounded by bolides?
Did flares upon the Sun explode
Or cosmic rays collide?
The villain was a microbe that
Lived peacefully for years
Till fertilized by Vulcan’s dust,
As sediments make clear.
A mindless little bug,
Bloomed down a strange
And new metabolic pathway.
So if you think you rule the world,
Have dominion over all,
Consider other kingdoms
That have survived The Fall.
Earth almost lost her skin of life
When nickel from volcanoes
Fertilized the oceans
For methane belching microbes.
Earth’s biosphere then faltered
After such a hopeful start.
Four billion years evolving
Near destroyed by bugs that fart.

Sediments suPrimena survivor Lystrosaurusggest a prime suspect. The Permian Dying made way for the cat-sized Lystrosarus… and us!