Geologic emissions of methane to the atmosphere

Chemosphere. 2002 Dec;49(8):777-89. doi: 10.1016/s0045-6535(02)00380-6.


The atmospheric methane budget is commonly defined assuming that major sources derive from the biosphere (wetlands, rice paddies, animals, termites) and that fossil, radiocarbon-free CH4 emission is due to and mediated by anthropogenic activity (natural gas production and distribution, and coal mining). However, the amount of radiocarbon-free CH4 in the atmosphere, estimated at approximately 20% of atmospheric CH4, is higher than the estimates from statistical data of CH4 emission from fossil fuel related anthropogenic sources. This work documents that significant amounts of "old" methane, produced within the Earth crust, can be released naturally into the atmosphere through gas permeable faults and fractured rocks. Major geologic emissions of methane are related to hydrocarbon production in sedimentary basins (biogenic and thermogenic methane) and, subordinately, to inorganic reactions (Fischer-Tropsch type) in geothermal systems. Geologic CH4 emissions include diffuse fluxes over wide areas, or microseepage, on the order of 10(0)-10(2) mg m(-2) day(-1), and localised flows and gas vents, on the order of 10(2) t y(-1), both on land and on the seafloor. Mud volcanoes producing flows of up to 10(3) t y(-1) represent the largest visible expression of geologic methane emission. Several studies have indicated that methanotrophic consumption in soil may be insufficient to consume all leaking geologic CH4 and positive fluxes into the atmosphere can take place in dry or seasonally cold environments. Unsaturated soils have generally been considered a major sink for atmospheric methane, and never a continuous, intermittent, or localised source to the atmosphere. Although geologic CH4 sources need to be quantified more accurately, a preliminary global estimate indicates that there are likely more than enough sources to provide the amount of methane required to account for the suspected missing source of fossil CH4.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / chemistry*
  • Atmosphere / analysis*
  • Earth, Planet*
  • Evolution, Planetary
  • Geologic Sediments / analysis*
  • Methane / chemistry*
  • Oceans and Seas
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Soil / analysis
  • Thermodynamics
  • Volatilization
  • Volcanic Eruptions


  • Air Pollutants
  • Soil
  • Methane