Is the Arctic Methane Budget Changing?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemistry


Methane (CH4) is the second (after CO2) most important greenhouse gas. Sources of CH4 to the atmosphere, both natural and human-driven, have been intensively studied and are now well established; however, their global and regional estimates still suffer from large uncertainties. The region above the Arctic Circle is very important from this perspective because of a unique combination of CH4 emission sources which are active now, e.g. wetlands and forest fires, and those which may become active in the future owing to regional climate change. Potentially important future sources include thawing permafrost soils and CH4-rich oceanic sediments (clathrates). Since the Arctic has been warming much faster compared to the rest of the world, this may trigger various changes in the active CH4 sources as well as those that represent large pools of carbon (permafrost soil) or gaseous CH4 (clathrates). The goal of the proposed project is thus to locate and quantify major sources of Arctic CH4 emissions to the atmosphere and contribute to understanding how these emissions may change with further regional climate warming. At present, the number of Arctic CH4 measurements is simply not sufficient to either make reliable estimates of regional CH4 sources or to understand recent trends in atmospheric CH4 concentrations. In addition to scarce measurements, most Arctic CH4 studies have been supported by campaign-based observations of the local processes responsible for CH4 emissions, mostly in summer when the region is most accessible. But owing to the episodic, and in some instances seasonal, nature of most CH4 source emissions paired against sporadic campaign-based sampling, it has not been possible to produce reliable emission estimates of different Arctic CH4 sources. To address this problem, we propose to establish year-round continuous measurements of CH4 concentration and isotopic composition in ambient air, and to synchronise campaign-based studies with the expected seasonality and location of the CH4 source emissions. Since CH4 emitted from different sources has distinct isotopic 'signatures', it is possible to attribute the observed emissions to the particular sources. This approach requires a retrospective analysis of the air mass trajectories to establish the origin of air with the observed isotopic signature. To be more specific, we propose to establish continuous CH4 measurements at Teriberka, Russia (69.2N, 35.1E; NW Russian Arctic coast), which will provide new insight into central Eurasian Arctic processes. In addition, we plan to carry out detailed isotopic studies of ambient air from several locations in the European and Russian Arctic. These will be compared with records of Arctic air reaching the UK at measurement stations at Barra (Scotland) and Weybourne (Norfolk). Combining our datasets with those from the small number of other Arctic stations of our international colleagues, we will determine whether ongoing changes in the Arctic regional climate are resulting in increased CH4 emissions. Specifically, we will use these concentration and isotopic data with the p-TOMCAT chemical transport and Met Office NAME models to locate Arctic CH4 sources and quantify any interannual changes in emissions. In addition to these main objectives, we plan to make regular measurements of atmospheric concentrations of other gases (CO2, CO, N2O, SF6, H2, O2/N2 and Ar/N2) from glass bottles collected at several Arctic locations. Such measurements will not require additional collections or costs as they will be made in parallel to the CH4 measurements, improving cost efficiency. Measurement of other gas species will help to assess the linked Arctic processes and source emissions of these gases, both on land and at sea, e.g. fire emissions (increased CO), ocean warming, expansion of oceanic 'dead zone' (due to decreased amounts of dissolved O2) and thawing permafrost soils and wetlands.
Description Our work in this reject and the related MAMM project argues for a new understanding of the seasonal emissions of methane from scandinavian wetlands.
Exploitation Route Improved emissions will be used for chemistry-climate modelling studies.
Sectors Environment