Methane and other greenhouse gases in the Arctic - measurements, process studies and modelling (MAMM)

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Holloway, University of London
Department Name: Earth Sciences


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.


10 25 50

publication icon
Berchet A (2016) Atmospheric constraints on the methane emissions from the East Siberian Shelf in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics

publication icon
Dlugokencky EJ (2011) Global atmospheric methane: budget, changes and dangers. in Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences

Description The main source of methane in the Arctic is from wetlands in summer and from gas leaks in winter. Currently gas hydrates are not a significant source.
Exploitation Route The findings imply that methane emissions from Arctic wetlands may increase with global warming. This may be significant for understanding future climate change. However the risk of major hydrate release in the near future may be small. Economic planners and the energy industry may find the results useful.
Sectors Energy,Environment,Other

Description This project is still having impact. Nisbet et al 2016 (listed in publications) on rising methane is a major update of the global methane budget, both Arctic and elsewhere, with implications for the Paris Agreement. At EGU 2017 Nisbet was lead convenor of a major methane session with >40 abstracts. Outcomes so far include many scientific papers and symposia at the AGU meetings in Dec. 2013, Including a Union Symposium on Methane chaired by the PI and on Arctic methane, and in Dec. 2015, when two further symposia were organised by team members, and at other meetings of EGU and AGU. Advice has also been given to policymakers and the PI and investigators have contributed to a paper presented by the Canadians during their presidency of the Arctic Council.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

Description Report to Arctic Council (AMAP): Co-authorship of major Canadian goverment report on Arctic methane, presented during the Canadian presidency of the Arctic Council. Report is listed in publication list.
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Impact Arora et al (2015) Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) assessment 2015: Methane as a climate forcer. Report by Canadian government to the Arctic Council.
Description The Global Methane Budget
Amount £5,000,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/N016211/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2016 
End 04/2020
Description Atmospheric sampling with the Norwegian Inst. for Air Research (NILU) 
Organisation Norwegian Institute for Air Research
Country Norway 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Joint Arctic air sampling at Zeppelin, Spitsbergen and Antarctic sampling at Troll base.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborative isotopic analysis: NILU collect air samples and RHUL analyses them for d13C in methane.
Impact Collaborative papers, reported in publications
Description Award winner, 'The Engineer'/EPSRC Collaborate to Innovate awards. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Award winner, The Engineer, Innovation prize
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description BBC World Service documentary - radio. "Discovery - cheating the atmsophere" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Participation in BBC World Service documentary "Disocvery - cheating the atmosphere". Long interview on the problems of assessing greenhouse gas emissions inventories for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - Paris Agreement. Broadcast several times in second week of Dec, 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description LONCON3 World Science fiction convention 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Several Activities - all invited.
1. Exhibition of methane measurement "Discover your inner cow" sampling methane in breath.
2. Panel discussion on climate in science fiction
3. Panel discussion on sci fiction and policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
Description NERC UnEarthed Showcase 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact NERC UnEarthed Showcase event, Edinburgh. MOYA presentation on the Global methane budget, focussed on school age students. ~7000 schoolchildren and many members of the general public. 17,18,19 and 20 Novermber 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Public Lecture: 56th Annual Bennett Lecture, Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Public lecture - annual 'named' lecture of the Leicester Literary and Philosophical Society, Univ. of Leicester
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Royal Holloway Science festival 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Several activities - all coordinated by us;
1. fossil trail
2. Volcano exhibit and eruption
3. lecture
4. Gold panning
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015