Articles | Volume 14, issue 23
Research article
08 Dec 2014
Research article |  | 08 Dec 2014

Estimating regional fluxes of CO2 and CH4 using space-borne observations of XCH4: XCO2

A. Fraser, P. I. Palmer, L. Feng, H. Bösch, R. Parker, E. J. Dlugokencky, P. B. Krummel, and R. L. Langenfelds

Abstract. We use the GEOS-Chem global 3-D atmospheric chemistry transport model to interpret XCH4:XCO2 column ratios retrieved from the Japanese Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT). The advantage of these data over CO2 and CH4 columns retrieved independently using a full physics optimal estimation algorithm is that they are less prone to scattering-related regional biases. We show that the model is able to reproduce observed global and regional spatial (mean bias =0.7%) and temporal variations (global r2=0.92) of this ratio with a model bias < 2.5%. We also show that these variations are driven by emissions of CO2 and CH4 that are typically 6 months out of phase, which may reduce the sensitivity of the ratio to changes in either gas. To simultaneously estimate fluxes of CO2 and CH4 we use a maximum likelihood estimation approach. We use two approaches to resolve independent flux estimates of these two gases using GOSAT observations of XCH4:XCO2: (1) the a priori error covariance between CO2 and CH4 describing common source from biomass burning; and (2) also fitting independent surface atmospheric measurements of CH4 and CO2 mole fraction that provide additional constraints, improving the effectiveness of the observed GOSAT ratio to constrain flux estimates. We demonstrate the impact of these two approaches using numerical experiments. A posteriori flux estimates inferred using only the GOSAT ratios and taking advantage of the error covariance due to biomass burning are not consistent with the true fluxes in our experiments, as the inversion system cannot judge which species' fluxes to adjust. This reflects the weak dependence of XCH4:XCO2 on biomass burning. We find that adding the surface data effectively provides an "anchor" to the inversion that dramatically improves the ability of the GOSAT ratios to infer both CH4 and CO2 fluxes. We show that the regional flux estimates inferred from GOSAT XCH4:XCO2 ratios together with the surface mole fraction data during 2010 are typically consistent with or better than the corresponding values inferred from fitting XCH4 or the full-physics XCO2 data products, as judged by a posteriori uncertainties. We show that the fluxes inferred from the ratio measurements perform best over regions where there is a large seasonal cycle such as Tropical South America, for which we report a small but significant annual source of CO2 compared to a small annual sink inferred from the XCO2 data. We argue that given that the ratio measurements are less compromised by systematic error than the full physics data products, the resulting a~posteriori estimates and uncertainties provide a more faithful description of the truth. Based on our analysis we also argue that by using the ratios we may be reaching the current limits on the precision of these observed space-based data.

Short summary
Satellite measurements of CO2 and CH4 can be subject to regional systematic errors that can consequently compromise their ability to infer robust flux estimates of these two gases. We develop a method to use retrieved ratios of CH4 and CO2 that are less affected by systematic error. We show that additional in situ data are needed to anchor these observed ratios so they can simultaneously infer fluxes of CO2 and CH4. We argue the ratio data will provide a more faithful description of true fluxes.
Final-revised paper