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Enlighten Me: Methane and salt marshes

Salt marshes are known as a “sink” for global warming-causing carbon.

That’s important for Delaware, since the small, coastal state has lots of these ecosystems.

But what scientists didn’t know is that they also hold another, even more potent greenhouse gas - methane. That’s the conclusion of research out of the University of Delaware.

In this week’s Enlighten Me, Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt talks UD researcher Rodrigo Vargas about how science missed this detail, and what it might mean for mitigating climate change.

Vargas and Angelia Seyfferth, professors in the University of Delaware’s College of Agricultural and Natural Resources, were involved in research that found unexpectedly high concentrations of methane in a Delaware salt marsh. 

“The scientific community has overlooked some biochemical pathways about how methane can be produced in different ecosystems around the world,” Vargas said. 

Vargas says he’s not suggesting that scientists measure the methane fluxes in every ecosystem on earth.  

“But because of the importance as a greenhouse gas and the greenhouse warming potential, it is something important to consider,” he said. 

The UD researchers’ discovery has implications for land management and conservation. 

Vargas says measurements of these Delaware ecosystems’ value—determined through a theoretical carbon market—increase once you know there’s lots of methane stored in them too. 


This story has been updated.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.