Articles | Volume 4, issue 9/10
30 Nov 2004
30 Nov 2004

Hemispheric average Cl atom concentration from 13C/12C ratios in atmospheric methane

U. Platt, W. Allan, and D. Lowe

Abstract. Methane is a significant atmospheric trace gas in the context of greenhouse warming and climate change. The dominant sink of atmospheric methane is the hydroxyl radical (OH). Recently, a mechanism for production of chlorine radicals (Cl) in the marine boundary layer (MBL) via bromine autocatalysis has been proposed. The importance of this mechanism in producing a methane sink is not clear at present because of the difficulty of in-situ direct measurement of Cl. However, the large kinetic isotope effect of Cl compared with OH produces a large fractionation of 13C compared with 12C in atmospheric methane. This property can be used to estimate the likely minimum size of the methane sink attributable to MBL Cl. By taking account of the mixing of MBL air into the free troposphere, we estimate that the global methane sink due to reaction with Cl atoms in the MBL could be as large as 19Tgyr-1, or about 3.3% of the total CH4 sink. However, its impact on the methane stable carbon isotope budget is large and warrants further attention.

Final-revised paper