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Scientists Saying Against Trees Sparks Debate

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The Dutch group did not repeat Keppler's experiment exactly, Dueck said, "because it was not methodologically sound." Instead, his team boosted the sensitivity of their methane measurements by growing plants in an atmosphere saturated with a heavy carbon isotope, 13C.

If the plants subsequently emitted methane (13CH4), it would be easy to spot above the background of light (12CH4) methane in the air. Photo-acoustic spectroscopy (a laser-based measuring technique) was used to detect the gas.

Dueck said it showed that even a large mass of plants produced negligible methane emissions - at most 0.3 percent of Keppler's values.

So if Dueck's team is correct, where did Keppler go wrong? Dueck suggests that Keppler's team might have forgotten that gas trapped in plants' intercellular spaces, and in air pockets in the soil, could diffuse out and be counted as "emitted" by the plant in their experiment.

But Keppler rejects this, saying that this sort of methane desorption could only be partially responsible for the amounts of gas he found.

Indeed, he suggests that Dueck's use of heavy isotopes may have actually changed the plants' metabolic preferences, killing off their methane emissions. Dueck counters that no literature reports suggest this might be a problem.


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