What controls the seasonal cycle of columnar methane observed by GOSAT over different regions in India?
Abstract. Methane (CH4) is one of the most important short-lived climate forcers for its critical roles in greenhouse warming and air pollution chemistry in the troposphere, and the water vapor budget in the stratosphere. It is estimated that up to about 8 % of global CH4 emissions occur from South Asia, covering less than 1 % of the global land. With the availability of satellite observations from space, variability in CH4 has been captured for most parts of the global land with major emissions, which were otherwise not covered by the surface observation network. The satellite observation of the columnar dry-air mole fractions of methane (XCH4) is an integrated measure of CH4 densities at all altitudes from the surface to the top of the atmosphere. Here, we present an analysis of XCH4 variability over different parts of India and the surrounding cleaner oceanic regions as measured by the Greenhouse gases Observation SATellite (GOSAT) and simulated by an atmospheric chemistry-transport model (ACTM). Distinct seasonal variations of XCH4 have been observed over the northern (north of 15° N) and southern (south of 15° N) parts of India, corresponding to the peak during the southwestern monsoon (July–September) and early autumn (October–December) seasons, respectively. Analysis of the transport, emission, and chemistry contributions to XCH4 using ACTM suggests that a distinct XCH4 seasonal cycle over northern and southern regions of India is governed by both the heterogeneous distributions of surface emissions and a contribution of the partial CH4 column in the upper troposphere. Over most of the northern Indian Gangetic Plain regions, up to 40 % of the peak-to-trough amplitude during the southwestern (SW) monsoon season is attributed to the lower troposphere ( ∼ 1000–600 hPa), and ∼ 40 % to uplifted high-CH4 air masses in the upper troposphere ( ∼ 600–200 hPa). In contrast, the XCH4 seasonal enhancement over semi-arid western India is attributed mainly ( ∼ 70 %) to the upper troposphere. The lower tropospheric region contributes up to 60 % in the XCH4 seasonal enhancement over the Southern Peninsula and oceanic region. These differences arise due to the complex atmospheric transport mechanisms caused by the seasonally varying monsoon. The CH4 enriched air mass is uplifted from a high-emission region of the Gangetic Plain by the SW monsoon circulation and deep cumulus convection and then confined by anticyclonic wind in the upper tropospheric heights ( ∼ 200 hPa). The anticyclonic confinement of surface emission over a wider South Asia region leads to a strong contribution of the upper troposphere in the formation of the XCH4 peak over northern India, including the semi-arid regions with extremely low CH4 emissions. Based on this analysis, we suggest that a link between surface emissions and higher levels of XCH4 is not always valid over Asian monsoon regions, although there is often a fair correlation between surface emissions and XCH4. The overall validity of ACTM simulation for capturing GOSAT observed seasonal and spatial XCH4 variability will allow us to perform inverse modeling of XCH4 emissions in the future using XCH4 data.