Estimating Sources and Sinks of Methane: An Atmospheric View

  • Peter Bergamaschi
  • Philippe Bousquet
Part of the Ecological Studies book series (ECOLSTUD, volume 203)

Methane (CH4) is an important trace gas of the atmosphere. Its mixing ratio has increased by a factor of 2.5 compared to preindustrial levels (year 1800) (Etheridge et al. 1992) and reached almost 1,800 parts per billion (ppb) today (Dlugokencky et al. 2003; IPCC 2007). From ice core measurements, it is known that present atmospheric levels of CH4 are unprecedented during at least the last 600,000 years (Petit et al. 1999; Spahni et al. 2005). Atmospheric CH4 is the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) after CO2 (IPCC 2007). The direct radiative forcing of anthropogenic CH4 is 0.48 W/m2, that is almost one third that of anthropogenic CO2 (1.66 W/m2) (IPCC 2007). Furthermore, CH4 plays an important role in atmospheric chemistry, affecting the oxidizing capacity of the atmosphere and tropospheric ozone (O3). The mean atmospheric lifetime of CH4 is estimated to be 8.4 years on average (IPCC 2001).

CH4 is emitted at the earth surface by a variety of natural and anthropogenic sources (Matthews and Fung 1987, 1991; Olivier and Berdowski 2001). The principal CH4 production processes are: (1) biogenic CH4 formation (by methanogenic bacteria under anaerobic conditions), (2) thermogenic formation, and (3) incomplete combustion of biomass or fossil fuels. The biogenic CH4 formation occurs, for example, in wetlands, water-flooded rice paddies, landfills, and stomachs of ruminant animals, while thermogenic CH4 formation is the most important process for generation of natural gas deposits (over geological timescales). Recently, it has been suggested that plants emit CH4 also under aerobic conditions (Keppler et al. 2006). The experiments by Keppler et al. (2006) indicated that these emissions are related to a hitherto unknown nonmicrobial process in which the structural plant component pectin plays a central role. Keppler et al. (2006) estimated that these plant emissions may contribute significantly to the global CH4 budget (62–236 Tg/year). However, consideration of the preindustrial CH4 budget (Bergamaschi et al. 2006; Houweling et al. 2000), and a more detailed upscaling study (Kirschbaum et al. 2006) indicates that the upper estimate by Keppler et al. appears very unlikely.


Methane Emission Inverse Modeling Former Soviet Union Atmospheric Methane Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer 
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© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Bergamaschi
    • 1
  • Philippe Bousquet
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute for Environment and SustainabilityEuropean Commission Joint Research CentreIspraItaly
  2. 2.Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et del’Environnement (LSCE)Gif sur YvetteFrance

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