The Global Methane Budget

Atmospheric methane has been increasing in concentration sharply since 2007, for reasons that are not fully understood, with ever-increasing uncertainty in how it should be treated in future climate projects. Overall, the increase since 2007 is comparable to the largest growth events in the Holocene. The largest rises in concentration have been seen in the tropics and southern hemisphere, with the sharpest year-on-year increase thus far occurring in 2014.

Strong growth continues in 2015. Carbon isotopic evidence suggests that the increase is due to sources that are predominantly biogenic, with changes in anthropogenic sources (for example natural gas leakage, fracking and so on) playing a more minor role. This, taken with the tropical locus on growth, suggests that the increase has primarily been driven by meteorological change. However, the global methane budget is not well described. "Bottom-up" estimates, made by aggregating inventories of emissions (e.g. from gas leaks, fires, landfills, cows, wetlands, etc) balanced with known loss processes, are significantly different from ‘"top-down" budgets assessed by direct measurement of the atmosphere. Why this discrepancy occurs is not known. The project has four components, each with a number of work packages. 1. Better Observations are needed, to support regional and global atmospheric modelling to derive estimates of emissions. The project will support a UK observation network for methane and its isotopes. Continuous stations will be at Kjolnes (Norway), Weybourne, Jersey, NERC ship RRS JC Ross, Cape Verde, Ascension, Falklands, Halley Bay, Hong Kong, with partner stations in Canada, Spitsbergen, Bolivia, S. Africa, India, Rwanda and Malaysia. Flask or bag sampling (methane, 13C and D/H isotopes) will be at these stations and at a number of continental stations in S. America, Africa and S, SE and E Asia, with offline measurement in the UK. A D/H measurement facility will be set up. The UK FAAM aircraft will carry out flights across the Atlantic tropics, from Azores to Cape Verde to Ascension. 2. Process Studies will address the largest information gaps in the global budget. Tropical emission fluxes and isotopic signatures are not well constrained. Tropical campaigns will be in wetlands in Amazonia, Africa, India and SE Asia, and C4 savanna biomass burn regions. Poorly understood anthropogenic sources will be studied in Kuwait and S, SE and E Asia. Characteristic isotopic signatures of regional emissions will be determined by inexpensive Keeling plot studies, to support global and regional modelling. Land surface modelling and satellite studies will study emissions and responses to change in temperature and precipitation. Major sink processes will be investigated in the tropical atmosphere, with vertically and latitudinal resolved OH and Cl budget studies by the FAAM aircraft, and quantification of tropical methanotrophy. 3. Modelling will be used to derive regional and global fluxes, apportioned by source type and geography using integrated in situ and remote sensing observing systems. We will carry out regional trajectory studies using models like NAME to assess regional emissions. Global modelling using 3D models like UKCA will test synthetic estimates of the methane mole fraction and isotopic record. Global inverse modelling for mole fraction, 13C and D/H will be used to estimate fluxes by geographic source and source type, including a comprehensive assessment of the uncertainties that remain once all available observations have been used. 4. Integrative studies will use the results from the project to test top-down and bottom-up emission estimates, and evaluate the responses of the global methane budget as it responds to climate change. The project will invest in a state of the art UK greenhouse gas monitoring network as a legacy after the project has ended.

Grant reference
Natural Environment Research Council
Total awarded
£271,022 GBP
Start date
30 Apr 2016
4 years 6 months 1 day
End date
31 Oct 2020