Interpretation of observed atmospheric variations of CO2 and CH4.
Barlow, James Mathew
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The overarching theme of my thesis is understanding observed variations of northern hemisphere atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) concentrations. I focus my analysis on high-latitude observations of these gases, as there are large stores of carbon in boreal vegetation and tundra which are vulnerable to rapid warming in the Arctic. My thesis is split into two parts. First, I use the wavelet transform to spectrally decompose observed multi-decadal timeseries for CO2 and CH4. I perform a series of numerical experiments based on synthetic data in order to characterise the errors associated with the analysis. For CO2, I analyse the phase and amplitude of the detrended seasonal cycle of CO2 to infer changes about carbon uptake by northern vegetation. I do not find a long-term change in the length of the carbon uptake period despite significant changes in the spring and autumn phase. I do find an increase in the rate of peak uptake which coincides with the observed increase in seasonal amplitude. These results suggest that the carbon uptake period of boreal vegetation has become more intense but has not changed in length, which provides evidence for an increase in net uptake of CO2 in the high latitudes. For CH4, I test the hypothesis that an increase in Arctic wetland emissions could result in a decrease in the seasonal amplitude of CH4 in the high latitudes. This hypothesis is based on the fact that the seasonal minima of CH4 roughly coincides with the peak of high latitude wetland CH4 emissions. I find that the CH4 seasonal amplitude has significantly decreased at a number of high-latitude sites. However I also find that atmospheric transport appears to drive much of the variability in high-latitude CH4 and that transport could also be responsible for the observed changes in amplitude. I show that an increase in wetland emissions is likely to have a more pronounced effect on the high-latitude CH4 seasonal cycle in the future. In the second section of my thesis, I describe a series of experiments in collaboration with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, in which I characterise a new instrument technology for satellite applications to observe changes in CO2 from low-Earth orbit. The proof of concepts experiments were performed with a bench top hyperspectral imager. I show that the instrument is able to capture clean spectra at the wavelengths required for CO2 with low levels of scattered light between spectra.