Methane and Other Greenhouse Gases in the Arctic - Measurements, Process Studies and Modelling (MAMM)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemistry


The Arctic is a major source of atmospheric methane and other greenhouse gases, with both natural and anthropogenic emissions. Arctic greenhouse gas sources have the potential to be important globally, changing radiative forcing and atmospheric oxidizing capacity. Moreover, both palaeorecords and present-day studies suggest some sources, such as wetlands and methane hydrates, may show strong positive feedbacks [Nisbet and Chappellaz, 2009], so that the warming feeds the warming. It is urgent that Arctic greenhouse gas sources should be quantified, by strength, geographic location, character (e.g. wetland, gasfield, clathrate), and by temporal variation (summer, winter, day, night), and their vulnerability to change assessed.
We will address these issues by an integrated program of measurement and modelling. Analysis of gas mixing ratios (concentrations), isotopic character, and source fluxes, will be made both from the ground and aircraft. Both past and new measurements will be modelled using a suite of techniques. Fluxes will be implemented into the JULES land surface model. Atmospheric modelling, including trajectory and inverse modelling will improve understanding on the local/regional scale, placing the role of Arctic emissions in large scale global atmospheric change.

Planned Impact

Greenhouse warming is a highly significant social, political and scientific issue. Any scientific study that seeks to increase our understanding of greenhouse gases (GHG) potentially has wide ranging impact. The MAMM project will therefore have significant impact across a wide spectrum of stakeholders.

Who will benefit from this research?

Scientific community. This work will be of significant scientific interest nationally and internationally. The cross-disciplinary nature of the project will ensure the results are relevant to atmospheric scientists, geologists and land-surface scientists.

Policymakers. The Arctic is a region of rapid change and currently much uncertainty exists about its role in contributing to growth in GHG, underlining the need for investment in Arctic research. This project will have a direct bearing on understanding the role of the Arctic in global warming for policymaking purposes. Therefore, policymakers in government and scientific bodies (such as IPCC) will all be users of the project outcomes.

Business. The UK Met Office will benefit from the close links with this project through collaborations for provision of modelling capability and measurements. Instrument companies have expressed interest in collaborating with MAMM scientists.

General public / media. There has been significant publicity in recent years on GHG and the Arctic. However, confusion is still apparent; for example, in a recent school visit 3 out of 4 6th form students thought the most abundant greenhouse gas was methane.

How will they benefit?

Scientific community. There is a lack of observations of GHG, particularly CH4 isotopic data, in the Arctic so the dataset gathered by this project will be important for the scientific community. Improvements to instruments during and after this project are likely. Improved national modelling capability will result that may enhance our ability to model polar climate change in Earth System Models. Project results will be widely reported in publications, international conferences, and an Arctic themed national conference as well as existing projects and collaborations such as MethaneNet, EU-GEOmon, etc. Project results will feed into future IPCC assessments.

Policymakers. Project PIs have provided advice to the UK government, contributed to EU policy committees, as well as to IPCC and WMO panels and assessments. Many opportunities exist for MAMM scientists to raise awareness of the role of the Arctic and of NERC's Arctic programme at the policy level, influencing legislation. In addition, project PDRAs will be encouraged to participate in the various 'science into policy' schemes that exist with the Royal Society and NERC.

Business. The UK Met Office is a key beneficiary of the MAMM project. They are providing the ARIES instrument during field campaigns and will benefit from field tests, leading to improved radiation modelling for the Met Office. They will also benefit from access to the new data and improvements to modelling capability through the UKCA and JULES projects. Instrument manufacturers will also benefit from advertising their involvement in a high profile scientific campaign and field testing of equipment e.g. Aerodyne Inc have expressed a wish to test their new instrument during the campaign.

General public / media. Our aim will be to raise awareness of the role of the Arctic and improve scientific understanding surrounding greenhouse warming. We will do this by media interviews and press releases during the project. Articles for popular science magazines will also be produced. A project website will be established along with a website aimed at presenting Arctic science to schoolchildren. Through podcasts and other web technologies we will aim to reach a wide audience. Local events such as national science week and presentations to local schools enhance the outreach from this project.


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Cain M (2017) A cautionary tale: A study of a methane enhancement over the North Sea in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

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Heimann I (2020) Methane Emissions in a Chemistry-Climate Model: Feedbacks and Climate Response. in Journal of advances in modeling earth systems

Description MAMM has so far produced a very large volume of new data, from surface and aircraft measurements, related to Arctic methane which will be widely exploited by the atmospheric science community. We have made a new determination of the fluxes of methane for Scandinavian wetlands and determined the isotopic ratio of these emissions. Both are key to making projections about future methane and climate change. We have also shown that emissions from the ocean close to Svalbard are small in contrast to some suggestions that there is a significant oceanic source.
We have also measured high concentrations of methane close to gas rigs in the North Sea. Preliminary analysis had suggested that the methane had largely been emitted from the rigs. Although there is evidence for some local emissions, combined analysis of methane and its isotopes modified that view. Our published work demonstrates that the bulk of the methane measured had a terrestrial biogenic source.
Exploitation Route Ongoing data analysis which will feed into numerical model simulations of climate/composition change in the future.
Sectors Environment

Description Cambridge Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The MAMM team presented an Arctic Science experience event at the Cambridge science festival in March 2014. Two sessions were held in which the team described in an interactive fashion how field campaign missions are conducted. The ideas was developed by Dr Illingworth, and colleagues from Manchester, with Dr Cain, Cambridge, and with colleagues from CEH.

The event received very positive feedback and we plan to repeat the event at other locations.

Interarctive event for 90 people, held twice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description Popular lecture on climate change 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An informal evening lecture about climate change to undergraduates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
Description Talks by me and team member Michelle Cain at NERC's Into the Blue event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact T`lk on methane at Into the Blue, Manchester
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016