Rapid growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the adoption of industrial-scale aquaculture

Junji Yuan, Jian Xiang, Deyan Liu, Hojeong Kang, Tiehu He, Sunghyun Kim, Yongxin Lin, Chris Freeman, Weixin Ding

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Fisheries capture has plateaued, creating ever-greater reliance on aquaculture to feed growing populations. Aquaculture volumes now exceed those of capture fisheries globally1,2, with China dominating production through major land-use change; more than half of Chinese freshwater aquaculture systems have been converted from paddy fields1,3. However, the greenhouse gas implications of this expansion have yet to be effectively quantified. Here, we measure year-round methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from paddy fields and new, extensively managed crab aquaculture ponds. The conversion increased associated global warming potentials from 8.15 ± 0.43 to 28.0 ± 4.1 MgCO2eq ha−1, primarily due to increased CH4 emissions. After compiling a worldwide database of different freshwater aquaculture systems, the top 21 producers were estimated to release 6.04 ± 1.17 TgCH4 and 36.7 ± 6.1 GgN2O in 2014. We found that 80.3% of the total CH4 emitted originated in shallow earthen aquaculture systems, with far lower emissions from intensified systems with continuous aeration4. We therefore propose that greater adoption of aerated systems is urgently required to address globally significant rises in CH4 emissions from the conversion of paddy fields to aquaculture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)318-322
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Apr 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB15020100), Natural Science Foundation of Jiangsu Province (BK20151056), National Natural Science Foundation of China (41501274 and 41471077) and Special Fund for Forest Scientific Research in the Public Welfare (201404210). H.K. is grateful to the NRF (2016R1D1A1A02937049) and KFS (2017096A001719BB01).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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