The 2007–2011 evolution of tropical methane in the mid-troposphere as seen from space by MetOp-A/IASI
Abstract. Since July 2007, monthly averages of mid-tropospheric methane have been retrieved in the tropics over land and sea, by day and night, from IASI onboard MetOp-A, yielding a complete view of the geographical distribution, seasonality and long-term tendency of methane in the mid-troposphere. Retrieved methane displays a clear seasonal cycle of ~25 ppbv in the northern tropics, with a maximum in November and a minimum in April–May, a more complex cycle of ~15 ppbv in the southern tropics, and a south-to-north latitudinal variation of ~30 ppbv – in good agreement with regular aircraft measurements of the CONTRAIL program. Comparisons with CARIBIC aircraft measurements made at ~11 km yield an averaged difference between collocated IASI estimates and CARIBIC measurements of 7.2 ppbv with a standard deviation of 13.1 ppbv. Comparisons with aircraft measurements made above 6 km during five HIPPO campaigns give an averaged difference between collocated IASI estimates and HIPPO measurements of 5.1 ppbv with a standard deviation of 16.3 ppbv. These comparisons show that IASI captures well the evolution of mid-tropospheric methane. In particular, in 2007 and 2008, IASI shows an increase of mid-tropospheric methane in the tropical region of 9.5 ± 2.8 and 6.3 ± 1.7 ppbv yr−1, respectively – in excellent agreement with the rate of increase measured at the surface after almost a decade of near-zero growth. IASI also indicates a slowing down of this increase in the following years to ~2 ppbv yr−1, with the highest increase in 2010. Assuming that the recent evolution of methane is mostly due to an increase in surface emissions, IASI might indicate a decrease in tropical wetland emissions for the period 2009–2011 compared to 2007–2008, in agreement with decreasing tropical precipitation over this period, together with an increase in biomass burning emissions in 2010 in the southern tropics.