Methane Feedback on Atmospheric Chemistry: Methods, Models, and Mechanisms

Holmes, C. D. (2018), Methane Feedback on Atmospheric Chemistry: Methods, Models, and Mechanisms, J. Adv. Modeling Earth Syst., 10, doi:10.1002/2017MS001196.

The atmospheric methane (CH4) chemical feedback is a key process for understanding the behavior of atmospheric CH4 and its environmental impact. This work reviews how the feedback is defined and used, then examines the meteorological, chemical, and emission factors that control the feedback strength. Geographical and temporal variations in the feedback are described and explained by HOx (HOx 5 OH 1 HO2) production and partitioning. Different CH4 boundary conditions used by models, however, make no meaningful difference to the feedback calculation. The strength of the CH4 feedback depends on atmospheric composition, particularly the atmospheric CH4 burden, and is therefore not constant. Sensitivity tests show that the feedback depends very weakly on temperature, insolation, water vapor, and emissions of NO. While the feedback strength has likely remained within 10% of its present value over the industrial era and likely will over the twenty-first century, neglecting these changes biases our understanding of CH4 impacts. Most environmental consequences per kg of CH4 emissions, including its global warming potential (GWP), scale with the perturbation time, which may have grown as much as 40% over the industrial era and continues to rise. Plain Language Summary Methane emissions alter atmospheric chemistry in ways that amplify the impact of those emissions. This work examines the chemical and meteorological causes of that feedback. The feedback and environmental impacts of CH4 emissions have likely strengthened over the historical era.

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Research Program: 
New Investigator Program (NIP)
Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)
Tropospheric Composition Program (TCP)