Can we detect regional methane anomalies? A comparison between three observing systems
Abstract. A Bayesian inversion system is used to evaluate the capability of the current global surface network and of the space-borne GOSAT/TANSO-FTS and IASI instruments to quantify surface flux anomalies of methane at various spatial (global, semi-hemispheric and regional) and time (seasonal, yearly, 3-yearly) scales. The evaluation is based on a signal-to-noise ratio analysis, the signal being the methane fluxes inferred from the surface-based inversion from 2000 to 2011 and the noise (i.e., precision) of each of the three observing systems being computed from the Bayesian equation. At the global and semi-hemispheric scales, all observing systems detect flux anomalies at most of the tested timescales. At the regional scale, some seasonal flux anomalies are detected by the three observing systems, but year-to-year anomalies and longer-term trends are only poorly detected. Moreover, reliably detected regions depend on the reference surface-based inversion used as the signal. Indeed, tropical flux inter-annual variability, for instance, can be attributed mostly to Africa in the reference inversion or spread between tropical regions in Africa and America. Our results show that inter-annual analyses of methane emissions inferred by atmospheric inversions should always include an uncertainty assessment and that the attribution of current trends in atmospheric methane to particular regions' needs increased effort, for instance, gathering more observations (in the future) and improving transport models. At all scales, GOSAT generally shows the best performance of the three observing systems.