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Analysis of global methane changes after the 1991 Pinatubo volcanic eruption

by N. Bândǎ, M. Krol, M. Van Weele, T. Van Noije, T. Röckmann
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics ()

Abstract

he global methane (CH4) growth rate showed large variations after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991. Both sources and sinks of tropospheric CH4 were altered following the eruption, by feedback processes between climate and tropospheric photochemistry. Such processes include Ultra Violet (UV) radiative changes due to the presence of volcanic sulfur dioxide (SO2) and sulphate aerosols in the stratosphere, and due to stratospheric ozone depletion. Changes in temperature and water vapour in the following years caused changes in tropospheric chemistry, as well as in natural emissions. We present a sensitivity study that investigates the relative effects that these processes had on tropospheric CH4 concentrations, using a simple one-dimensional chemistry model representative for the global tropospheric column. To infer the changes in UV radiative fluxes, the chemistry model is coupled to a radiative transfer model. We find that the overall effect of natural processes after the eruption on the CH4 growth rate is dominated by the reduction in CH4 lifetime due to stratospheric ozone depletion. However, all the other processes are found to have non-negligible effects, and should therefore be taken into account in order to obtain a good estimate of CH4 concentrations after Pinatubo. We find that the overall effect was a small initial increase in the CH4 growth rate after the eruption, followed by a decrease of about 7 ppb yr−1 by mid-1993. When changes in anthropogenic emissions are employed according to emission inventories, an additional decrease of about 5 ppb yr−1 in the CH4 growth rate is obtained between the years 1991 and 1993. The results using the simplified single column model are in good qualitative agreement with observed changes in the CH4 growth rate. Further analysis, taking into account changes in the dynamics of the atmosphere, variations in emissions from biomass burning, and in biogenic emissions of non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), requires the use of a full three-dimensional model.

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