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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
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Research article
05 Sep 2016
Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. A revision of the manuscript for further review has not been submitted.
Increasing boreal wetland emissions inferred from reductions in atmospheric CH4 seasonal cycle
J. M. Barlow1, P. I. Palmer1, and L. M. Bruhwiler2 1School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, UK
2National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado, USA
Abstract. Observed variations of the atmospheric greenhouse gas methane (CH4) over the past two decades remain the subject of debate. These variations reflect changes in emission, uptake, and atmospheric chemistry and transport. We isolate changes in the seasonal cycle of atmospheric CH4 using a wavelet transform. We report a previously undocumented persistent decrease in the peak-to-peak amplitude of the seasonal cycle of atmospheric CH4 at six out of seven high northern latitude sites over the past two to three decades. The observed amplitude changes are statistically significant for sites at Barrow, Alaska and Ocean Station M, Norway, which we find are the most sensitive of our sites to high northern latitude wetland emissions. We find using a series of numerical experiments using the TM5 atmospheric chemistry transport model that increasing wetland emissions and/or decreasing fossil fuel emissions can explain these observed changes, but no significant role for trends in meteorology and tropical wetlands. We also find no evidence in past studies to support a significant role for variations in the hydroxyl radical sink of atmospheric CH4. Using the TM5 model we find that changes in fossil fuel emissions of CH4, described by a conservative state-of-the-science bottom-up emission inventory, are not sufficient to reconcile observed changes in atmospheric CH4 at these sites. The remainder of the observed trend in amplitude, by process of elimination, must be due to an increase in high northern latitude wetland emissions, corresponding to an annual increase of at least 0.7 %/yr (equivalent to 5 Tg CH4/yr over 30 years).
Citation: Barlow, J. M., Palmer, P. I., and Bruhwiler, L. M.: Increasing boreal wetland emissions inferred from reductions in atmospheric CH4 seasonal cycle, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss.,, in review, 2016.
J. M. Barlow et al.
Interactive discussionStatus: closed (peer review stopped)
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment
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RC1: 'Interesting idea, but poorly presented', Anonymous Referee #1, 23 Sep 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
RC2: 'Referee comments', Anonymous Referee #2, 04 Oct 2016 Printer-friendly Version 
J. M. Barlow et al.
J. M. Barlow et al.


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Short summary
We report significant changes in the amplitude of the atmospheric CH4 seasonal cycle at sites over the Arctic. All corresponding evidence points to a persistent increase in wetlands. We show using a global 3-d chemistry transport model that reductions in North American and European fossil fuel emissions could explain a large portion of the amplitude decrease, but we still require significant, persistent emissions from wetlands to reconcile observed trends in the seasonal cycle.
We report significant changes in the amplitude of the atmospheric CH4 seasonal cycle at sites...