Environment of Earth

September 13, 2009


Filed under: Atmospheric chemistry — gargpk @ 2:43 pm

Methane is emitted from the earth’s surface mainly due the activity of methanogenic bacteria. Mean rate of its emission is 2 x 1011 cm-2 s-1. It undergoes a complex series of reactions which together constitute the methane cycle in the atmosphere. The cycle may be divided into three main parts:

1. Oxidation of methane and formation of formaldehyde;

2. Oxidation (removal) of formaldehyde and formation of carbon monoxide;

3. Oxidation (removal) of carbon monoxide and formation of carbon dioxide.

Oxidation in various reactions of these three parts of methane cycle in achieved by reaction with OH, O2, or by photochemical oxidation. Reduction at places in the cycle is achieved by reaction with NO and HO2.

Oxidation of methane and formation of formaldehyde

Methane in the atmosphere is first attacked by hydroxyl radical yielding methyl radical and water. Methyl radical, through various oxidation and reduction reactions in which methyl peroxide (CH3O2), methyl hydroperoxy (CH3OOH), methyl oxide (CH3O) are formed, finally yields formaldehyde. In the sequence of these reactions, OH and HO2 radicals used are again formed. The reactions involved in this part of methane cycle are:

1. CH4 + OH ——–> CH3 + H2O -

2. CH3 + O2 + M ——> CH3O2 + M

(M is some molecule acting catalytically and carrying off the excess energy of reaction)

3. CH3O2 + NO ——–> CH3O + NO2

3A. CH3O2 + HO2 ——–> CH3OOH + O2

3B. CH3OOH + hv ———–> CH3O + OH

4. CH30 + O2 ——-> HCHO + HO2

Oxidation of formaldehyde and formation of carbon monoxide

Formaldehyde formed ultimately in the above part of methane cycle is removed by photochemical or chemical oxidation reactions in this second part of methane cycle. A very small part of formaldehyde may be removed from atmosphere through dissolution in rainwater. Ultimate product of chemical removal of formaldehyde is carbon monoxide.

5. HCHO + OH ——–> HCO + H2O

5A. HCHO + hv ——–> HCO + H

6. HCHO + hv ———> CO + H2

7. HCO + O2 ———-> CO + HO2

Oxidation of carbon monoxide and formation of carbon dioxide

Carbon monoxide formed in the second part of methane cycle is finally oxidized by reaction with hydroxyl radical to yield carbon dioxide and hydrogen atom.

8. CO + OH ——–> CO2 + H

The notion of continuity helps in understanding the transfer of material along various reaction pathways in the complex set of reactions of methane cycle given above. Formaldehyde formed by oxidation of methane in atmosphere is removed by four possible processes (reaction numbers 5, 5A, 6 and rainout). The notion of continuity requires that the sum of fluxes through these four pathways is equal to the production rate. From the reactions given above the destruction of formaldehyde can be equated with the production of methane at the surface of Earth or with destruction of methane in the atmosphere. Thus may be written as:

- {d[CH4}/dt} = - {d[HCHO]/dt}

Since washing out with rain (rainout) is very insignificant, equation can be rewritten as:

k1 [OH][CH4] = k5 [HCHO][OH] + J5A [HCHO] + J6 [HCHO]

(subscript numbers refer to reaction numbers given above)

The atmospheric concentration of methane is 1.6 ppm or 4.2 x 1013 cm-3 and of hydroxyl radicals is about 7 x 105 cm-3. Taking the rate constant k1 = 8 x 10-15 cm3 s-1, the destruction rate of methane can be estimated as 2.3 x 105 cm-3 s-1. Furthermore, the above equation can be rearranged as:

[HCHO] = k1 [OH][CH4] / {k5 [OH] + J5A + J6}

This gives the estimate of formaldehyde as 4.3 x 109cm-3 (where k5 = 1.3 x 10-11 cm3 s-1 and J5+J6 = about 4.5 x 10-5 s-1). This estimate of the concentration is a little low but not too far from the typical value of 1010 cm-3 that is observed in the atmosphere.

Notion of continuity can be applied to the formation of carbon monoxide from the oxidation of methane. Carbon monoxide in atmosphere may arise from various sources but the magnitude of natural sources of production of CO can be easily assessed. If small loss of formaldehyde and possibly of methyl hydroxyperoxide (CH3OOH) due to rainout is neglected then CO should be formed at the same rate as methane is released into the atmosphere i.e. at

2 x 10^11 /sq. cm/sec. or about 0.7 x 10^15 g (C) /a. This is larger than the amount which arises from human activities (0.3 x 10^15 g (C)/a).


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  3. […] the atmosphere, the longer it's life span there, because of the depletion of the hydroxal radical. METHANE CYCLE IN ATMOSPHERE | Environment of Earth During this oxidation process, the effectiveness of CH4 as a GHG is about 100 times that of CO2. […]

    Pingback by Anyone who disputes this .. have lost touch with reality... - Page 14 - US Message Board - Political Discussion Forum — March 6, 2014 @ 1:32 am | Reply

  4. I too found this post very informative. It represents a lot of hard work and I appreciate it. I’m wondering if it might be possible to add a citation or two for some of the data. This would make the work even more authoritative.

    Comment by Jeremy — April 20, 2014 @ 6:28 am | Reply

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