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      Atmospheric science: Ancient ice and the global methane cycle

      Nature

      Springer Nature

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          Abstract

          An analysis of 12,000-year-old Antarctic ice revises our understanding of natural methane emissions to the atmosphere, and constrains estimates of the sensitivity of natural methane sources to abrupt climate-warming events. See Letter p.443

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          Orbital and millennial-scale features of atmospheric CH4 over the past 800,000 years.

          Atmospheric methane is an important greenhouse gas and a sensitive indicator of climate change and millennial-scale temperature variability. Its concentrations over the past 650,000 years have varied between approximately 350 and approximately 800 parts per 10(9) by volume (p.p.b.v.) during glacial and interglacial periods, respectively. In comparison, present-day methane levels of approximately 1,770 p.p.b.v. have been reported. Insights into the external forcing factors and internal feedbacks controlling atmospheric methane are essential for predicting the methane budget in a warmer world. Here we present a detailed atmospheric methane record from the EPICA Dome C ice core that extends the history of this greenhouse gas to 800,000 yr before present. The average time resolution of the new data is approximately 380 yr and permits the identification of orbital and millennial-scale features. Spectral analyses indicate that the long-term variability in atmospheric methane levels is dominated by approximately 100,000 yr glacial-interglacial cycles up to approximately 400,000 yr ago with an increasing contribution of the precessional component during the four more recent climatic cycles. We suggest that changes in the strength of tropical methane sources and sinks (wetlands, atmospheric oxidation), possibly influenced by changes in monsoon systems and the position of the intertropical convergence zone, controlled the atmospheric methane budget, with an additional source input during major terminations as the retreat of the northern ice sheet allowed higher methane emissions from extending periglacial wetlands. Millennial-scale changes in methane levels identified in our record as being associated with Antarctic isotope maxima events are indicative of ubiquitous millennial-scale temperature variability during the past eight glacial cycles.
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            Atmospheric science. Methane on the rise--again.

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              Upward revision of global fossil fuel methane emissions based on isotope database.

              Methane has the second-largest global radiative forcing impact of anthropogenic greenhouse gases after carbon dioxide, but our understanding of the global atmospheric methane budget is incomplete. The global fossil fuel industry (production and usage of natural gas, oil and coal) is thought to contribute 15 to 22 per cent of methane emissions to the total atmospheric methane budget. However, questions remain regarding methane emission trends as a result of fossil fuel industrial activity and the contribution to total methane emissions of sources from the fossil fuel industry and from natural geological seepage, which are often co-located. Here we re-evaluate the global methane budget and the contribution of the fossil fuel industry to methane emissions based on long-term global methane and methane carbon isotope records. We compile the largest isotopic methane source signature database so far, including fossil fuel, microbial and biomass-burning methane emission sources. We find that total fossil fuel methane emissions (fossil fuel industry plus natural geological seepage) are not increasing over time, but are 60 to 110 per cent greater than current estimates owing to large revisions in isotope source signatures. We show that this is consistent with the observed global latitudinal methane gradient. After accounting for natural geological methane seepage, we find that methane emissions from natural gas, oil and coal production and their usage are 20 to 60 per cent greater than inventories. Our findings imply a greater potential for the fossil fuel industry to mitigate anthropogenic climate forcing, but we also find that methane emissions from natural gas as a fraction of production have declined from approximately 8 per cent to approximately 2 per cent over the past three decades.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Nature
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                August 23 2017
                August 23 2017
                : 548
                : 7668
                : 403-404
                Article
                10.1038/548403a
                © 2017
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