Methane feedbacks to the global climate system in a warmer world

Joshua F. Dean*, Jack J. Middelburg, Thomas Röckmann, Rien Aerts, Luke G. Blauw, Matthias Egger, Mike S.M. Jetten, Anniek E.E. de Jong, Ove H. Meisel, Olivia Rasigraf, Caroline P. Slomp, Michiel H. in't Zandt, A. J. Dolman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Methane (CH4) is produced in many natural systems that are vulnerable to change under a warming climate, yet current CH4 budgets, as well as future shifts in CH4 emissions, have high uncertainties. Climate change has the potential to increase CH4 emissions from critical systems such as wetlands, marine and freshwater systems, permafrost, and methane hydrates, through shifts in temperature, hydrology, vegetation, landscape disturbance, and sea level rise. Increased CH4 emissions from these systems would in turn induce further climate change, resulting in a positive climate feedback. Here we synthesize biological, geochemical, and physically focused CH4 climate feedback literature, bringing together the key findings of these disciplines. We discuss environment-specific feedback processes, including the microbial, physical, and geochemical interlinkages and the timescales on which they operate, and present the current state of knowledge of CH4 climate feedbacks in the immediate and distant future. The important linkages between microbial activity and climate warming are discussed with the aim to better constrain the sensitivity of the CH4 cycle to future climate predictions. We determine that wetlands will form the majority of the CH4 climate feedback up to 2100. Beyond this timescale, CH4 emissions from marine and freshwater systems and permafrost environments could become more important. Significant CH4 emissions to the atmosphere from the dissociation of methane hydrates are not expected in the near future. Our key findings highlight the importance of quantifying whether CH4 consumption can counterbalance CH4 production under future climate scenarios.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)207-250
Number of pages44
JournalReviews of Geophysics
Issue number1
Early online date15 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


This work was carried out under the program of the Netherlands Earth System Science Centre (NESSC), financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). We thank Dr. Sander Veraverbeke and Prof. Guido van der Werf of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam for their helpful comments in section 3.3. We also thank the Editor and four anonymous reviewers for their comments, which have substantially improved the manuscript. This review does not include any new data; any data requests should be directed to the authors of the manuscript where the data originally appeared.

FundersFunder number
Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek
Netherlands Earth System Science Centre


    • climate change
    • marine and freshwaters
    • methane (CH)
    • methane hydrates
    • permafrost
    • wetlands


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