Arctic Methane: the View from Space
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Global increase of methane that started in 2007-2008 after a decade of stability requires investigation and explanation. Recent Arctic warming has stimulated speculation about dissociation of Arctic Ocean methane hydrates providing a potentially important new climatic positive feedback. Satellite thermal infrared (TIR) data do not require sunlight, providing key advantages for Arctic data collection compared to shortwave infrared spectroscopy. The US Atmospheric IR Sounder (AIRS) has been delivering CH4
tropospheric data since 2002; NOAA CH4
retrievals from the European Infrared Atmospheric Sounding Interferometer (IASI) radiation data are available since 2008 and analyzed here since 2009. Accuracy of TIR satellite retrievals, especially for the lower troposphere, diminishes for a cold, underlying surface. In this analysis the dependence is parameterized using the Thermal Contrast (a difference between surface temperature and air temperature at the altitude of 4 km, defined THC). A correction function was applied to CH4
data based on a data-derived relationship between THC and retrieved CH4
for areas with positive THC (in other words, without temperature inversions). The seasonal cycles of the adjusted low tropospheric data are in agreement with the surface in situ measurements. Instantaneous IASI retrievals exhibit less variability than AIRS v6 data. Maximum positive deviation of methane concentration measured by IASI for the study period was found for Baffin Bay in November-December, 2013 (Figure). It was concluded that the methane anomaly could indicate both coastal and off-shore emissions. Off-shore data were spatially consistent with a hydrate dissociation mechanisms, active for water depths below the hydrate stability zone top at ~300 m. These are hypothesized to dissociate during seasonal temperature maximum in the bottom layer of the ocean, which occurs in fall. IASI data may be considered as a reliable source of information about Arctic CH4
for conditions of sufficiently high atmospheric vertical thermal contrast.
Figure caption. Standard adjusted NOAA/IASI retrievals of 0-4 km mean methane concentration over areas with positive THC. Black points are for the entire Baffin Bay, red points are for locations with seawater depth below 300 m. Blue line is the all-Arctic mean.