Articles | Volume 17, issue 22
Research article
28 Nov 2017
Research article |  | 28 Nov 2017

Spatiotemporal patterns of the fossil-fuel CO2 signal in central Europe: results from a high-resolution atmospheric transport model

Yu Liu, Nicolas Gruber, and Dominik Brunner

Abstract. The emission of CO2 from the burning of fossil fuel is a prime determinant of variations in atmospheric CO2. Here, we simulate this fossil-fuel signal together with the natural and background components with a regional high-resolution atmospheric transport model for central and southern Europe considering separately the emissions from different sectors and countries on the basis of emission inventories and hourly emission time functions. The simulated variations in atmospheric CO2 agree very well with observation-based estimates, although the observed variance is slightly underestimated, particularly for the fossil-fuel component. Despite relatively rapid atmospheric mixing, the simulated fossil-fuel signal reveals distinct annual mean structures deep into the troposphere, reflecting the spatially dense aggregation of most emissions. The fossil-fuel signal accounts for more than half of the total (fossil fuel + biospheric + background) temporal variations in atmospheric CO2 in most areas of northern and western central Europe, with the largest variations occurring on diurnal timescales owing to the combination of diurnal variations in emissions and atmospheric mixing and transport out of the surface layer. The covariance of the fossil-fuel emissions and atmospheric transport on diurnal timescales leads to a diurnal fossil-fuel rectifier effect of up to 9 ppm compared to a case with time-constant emissions. The spatial pattern of CO2 from the different sectors largely reflects the distribution and relative magnitude of the corresponding emissions, with power plant emissions leaving the most distinguished mark. An exception is southern and western Europe, where the emissions from the transportation sector dominate the fossil-fuel signal. Most of the fossil-fuel CO2 remains within the country responsible for the emission, although in smaller countries up to 80 % of the fossil-fuel signal can come from abroad. A fossil-fuel emission reduction of 30 % is clearly detectable for a surface-based observing system for atmospheric CO2, while it is beyond the edge of detectability for the current generation of satellites with the exception of a few hotspot sites. Changes in variability in atmospheric CO2 might open an additional door for the monitoring and verification of changes in fossil-fuel emissions, primarily for surface-based systems.

Short summary
We analyze fossil fuel signals in atmospheric CO2 over Europe using a high-resolution atmospheric transport model and diurnal emission data. We find that fossil fuel CO2 accounts for more than half of the atmospheric CO2 variations, mainly at diurnal timescales. The covariance of diurnal emission and transport also leads to a substantial rectification effect. Thus, the consideration of diurnal emissions and high-resolution transport is paramount for accurately modeling the fossil fuel signal.
Final-revised paper