Articles | Volume 9, issue 10
Research article
 | Highlight paper
16 Oct 2012
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 16 Oct 2012

High-resolution interpolar difference of atmospheric methane around the Last Glacial Maximum

M. Baumgartner, A. Schilt, O. Eicher, J. Schmitt, J. Schwander, R. Spahni, H. Fischer, and T. F. Stocker

Abstract. Reconstructions of past atmospheric methane concentrations are available from ice cores from both Greenland and Antarctica. The difference observed between the two polar methane concentration levels represents a valuable constraint on the geographical location of the methane sources. Here we present new high-resolution methane records from the North Greenland Ice Core Project (NGRIP) and the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA) Dronning Maud Land (EDML) ice cores covering Termination 1, the Last Glacial Maximum, and parts of the last glacial back to 32 000 years before present. Due to the high resolution of the records, the synchronisation between the ice cores from NGRIP and EDML is considerably improved, and the interpolar concentration difference of methane is determined with unprecedented precision and temporal resolution. Relative to the mean methane concentration, we find a rather stable positive relative interpolar difference throughout the record with its minimum value of 3.7 ± 0.7 % between 21 900–21 200 years before present, which is higher than previously estimated in this interval close to the Last Glacial Maximum. This implies that Northern Hemisphere boreal wetland sources were never completely shut off during the peak glacial, as suggested from previous bipolar methane concentration records. Starting at 21 000 years before present, i.e. several millennia prior to the transition into the Holocene, the relative interpolar difference becomes even more positive and stays at a fairly stable level of 6.5 ± 0.8 % during Termination 1. We thus find that the boreal and tropical methane sources increased by approximately the same factor during Termination 1. We hypothesise that latitudinal shifts in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and the monsoon system contribute, either by dislocation of the methane source regions or, in case of the ITCZ, also by changing the relative atmospheric volumes of the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, to the subtle variations in the relative interpolar concentration difference on glacial/interglacial as well as on millennial time scales.

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