Articles | Volume 8, issue 7
Research article
20 Jul 2011
Research article |  | 20 Jul 2011

Barriers to predicting changes in global terrestrial methane fluxes: analyses using CLM4Me, a methane biogeochemistry model integrated in CESM

W. J. Riley, Z. M. Subin, D. M. Lawrence, S. C. Swenson, M. S. Torn, L. Meng, N. M. Mahowald, and P. Hess

Abstract. Terrestrial net CH4 surface fluxes often represent the difference between much larger gross production and consumption fluxes and depend on multiple physical, biological, and chemical mechanisms that are poorly understood and represented in regional- and global-scale biogeochemical models. To characterize uncertainties, study feedbacks between CH4 fluxes and climate, and to guide future model development and experimentation, we developed and tested a new CH4 biogeochemistry model (CLM4Me) integrated in the land component (Community Land Model; CLM4) of the Community Earth System Model (CESM1). CLM4Me includes representations of CH4 production, oxidation, aerenchyma transport, ebullition, aqueous and gaseous diffusion, and fractional inundation. As with most global models, CLM4 lacks important features for predicting current and future CH4 fluxes, including: vertical representation of soil organic matter, accurate subgrid scale hydrology, realistic representation of inundated system vegetation, anaerobic decomposition, thermokarst dynamics, and aqueous chemistry. We compared the seasonality and magnitude of predicted CH4 emissions to observations from 18 sites and three global atmospheric inversions. Simulated net CH4 emissions using our baseline parameter set were 270, 160, 50, and 70 Tg CH4 yr−1 globally, in the tropics, in the temperate zone, and north of 45° N, respectively; these values are within the range of previous estimates. We then used the model to characterize the sensitivity of regional and global CH4 emission estimates to uncertainties in model parameterizations. Of the parameters we tested, the temperature sensitivity of CH4 production, oxidation parameters, and aerenchyma properties had the largest impacts on net CH4 emissions, up to a factor of 4 and 10 at the regional and gridcell scales, respectively. In spite of these uncertainties, we were able to demonstrate that emissions from dissolved CH4 in the transpiration stream are small (<1 Tg CH4 yr−1) and that uncertainty in CH4 emissions from anoxic microsite production is significant. In a 21st century scenario, we found that predicted declines in high-latitude inundation may limit increases in high-latitude CH4 emissions. Due to the high level of remaining uncertainty, we outline observations and experiments that would facilitate improvement of regional and global CH4 biogeochemical models.

Final-revised paper