Definition of Methane

What Is Methane?

Methane (CH4), is a powerful greenhouse gas that is more than 20 times more potent in trapping gas within the earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide. This gas stays in the atmosphere for 9-15 years and because it is so much more effective at trapping heat, it has a significant impact on global climate change.

Methane is emitted through a number of natural processes in the environment including wetland bacterial activity, termite activity, methane from oceans, rivers and estuaries, wildfires, and wild animals. However, over 50% of the methane that is now being emitted into the atmosphere comes directly from human activities.[1] These include:

  • Enteric fermentation digestive processes from cattle, buffalo, goats, camels, and sheep
  • Wastewater treatment
  • Landfill gas
  • Coal mining
  • Petroleum systems and petrochemical production
  • Combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas
  • Rice cultivation
  • Composting of organic waste
  • Iron and steel production

Methane is a renewable resource, and if properly captured and stored can be used to fuel many of our modern day processes such as running vehicles, providing electricity, and warming homes.


1. Methane Sources and Emissions. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2010, from US Environmental Protection Agency:
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