Articles | Volume 13, issue 19
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 13, 9917–9937, 2013
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 13, 9917–9937, 2013

Research article 08 Oct 2013

Research article | 08 Oct 2013

Impact of transport model errors on the global and regional methane emissions estimated by inverse modelling

R. Locatelli1, P. Bousquet1, F. Chevallier1, A. Fortems-Cheney1, S. Szopa1, M. Saunois1, A. Agusti-Panareda2, D. Bergmann3, H. Bian4, P. Cameron-Smith3, M. P. Chipperfield5, E. Gloor5, S. Houweling6,7, S. R. Kawa4, M. Krol6,7,8, P. K. Patra9, R. G. Prinn10, M. Rigby10,11, R. Saito9, and C. Wilson5 R. Locatelli et al.
  • 1Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement, LSCE – UMR8212,Gif sur Yvette, France
  • 2European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Shinfield Park, Reading, Berkshire, RG2 9AX, UK
  • 3Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 7000 East Avenue, Livermore, CA 94550, USA
  • 4Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Code 613.3, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
  • 5Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK
  • 6SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Sorbonnelaan 2, 3584 CA Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 7Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research Utrecht (IMAU), Princetonplein 5, 3584 CC Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 8Wageningen University and Research Centre, Droevendaalsesteeg 4, 6708 PB Wageningen, the Netherlands
  • 9Research Institute for Global Change/JAMSTEC, 3173-25 Show-machi, Yokohama, 2360001, Japan
  • 10Center for Global Change Science, Building 54, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
  • 11School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8 1TS, UK

Abstract. A modelling experiment has been conceived to assess the impact of transport model errors on methane emissions estimated in an atmospheric inversion system. Synthetic methane observations, obtained from 10 different model outputs from the international TransCom-CH4 model inter-comparison exercise, are combined with a prior scenario of methane emissions and sinks, and integrated into the three-component PYVAR-LMDZ-SACS (PYthon VARiational-Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique model with Zooming capability-Simplified Atmospheric Chemistry System) inversion system to produce 10 different methane emission estimates at the global scale for the year 2005. The same methane sinks, emissions and initial conditions have been applied to produce the 10 synthetic observation datasets. The same inversion set-up (statistical errors, prior emissions, inverse procedure) is then applied to derive flux estimates by inverse modelling. Consequently, only differences in the modelling of atmospheric transport may cause differences in the estimated fluxes.

In our framework, we show that transport model errors lead to a discrepancy of 27 Tg yr−1 at the global scale, representing 5% of total methane emissions. At continental and annual scales, transport model errors are proportionally larger than at the global scale, with errors ranging from 36 Tg yr−1 in North America to 7 Tg yr−1 in Boreal Eurasia (from 23 to 48%, respectively). At the model grid-scale, the spread of inverse estimates can reach 150% of the prior flux. Therefore, transport model errors contribute significantly to overall uncertainties in emission estimates by inverse modelling, especially when small spatial scales are examined. Sensitivity tests have been carried out to estimate the impact of the measurement network and the advantage of higher horizontal resolution in transport models. The large differences found between methane flux estimates inferred in these different configurations highly question the consistency of transport model errors in current inverse systems.

Future inversions should include more accurately prescribed observation covariances matrices in order to limit the impact of transport model errors on estimated methane fluxes.

Final-revised paper