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Bipolar carbon and hydrogen isotope constraints on the Holocene methane budget

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Beck Jonas, Bock Michael, Schmitt Jochen, Seth Barbara, Blunier Thomas, Fischer Hubertus,
Project iCEP - Climate and Environmental Physics: Innovation in ice core science
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Biogeosciences
Volume (Issue) 15(23)
Page(s) 7155 - 7175
Title of proceedings Biogeosciences

Open Access

Type of Open Access Publisher (Gold Open Access)


Abstract. Atmospheric methane concentration shows a well-known decrease over the first half of the Holocene following the Northern Hemisphere summer insolation before it started to increase again to preindustrial values. There is a debate about what caused this change in the methane concentration evolution, in particular, whether an early anthropogenic influence or natural emissions led to the reversal of the atmospheric CH 4 concentration evolution. Here, we present new methane concentration and stable hydrogen and carbon isotope data measured on ice core samples from both Greenland and Antarctica over the Holocene. With the help of a two-box model and the full suite of CH 4 parameters, the new data allow us to quantify the total methane emissions in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere separately as well as their stable isotopic signatures, while interpretation of isotopic records of only one hemisphere may lead to erroneous conclusions. For the first half of the Holocene our results indicate an asynchronous decrease in Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere CH 4 emissions by more than 30 Tg CH 4 yr −1 in total, accompanied by a drop in the northern carbon isotopic source signature of about −3 ‰. This cannot be explained by a change in the source mix alone but requires shifts in the isotopic signature of the sources themselves caused by changes in the precursor material for the methane production. In the second half of the Holocene, global CH 4 emissions increased by about 30 Tg CH 4 yr −1 , while preindustrial isotopic emission signatures remained more or less constant. However, our results show that this early increase in methane emissions took place in the Southern Hemisphere, while Northern Hemisphere emissions started to increase only about 2000 years ago. Accordingly, natural emissions in the southern tropics appear to be the main cause of the CH 4 increase starting 5000 years before present, not supporting an early anthropogenic influence on the global methane budget by East Asian land use changes.