Assessment of the theoretical limit in instrumental detectability of northern high-latitude methane sources using δ13CCH4 atmospheric signals
Recent efforts have brought together bottom-up quantification approaches (inventories and process-based models) and top-down approaches using regional observations of methane atmospheric concentrations through inverse modelling to better estimate the northern high-latitude methane sources. Nevertheless, for both approaches, the relatively small number of available observations in northern high-latitude regions leaves gaps in our understanding of the drivers and distributions of the different types of regional methane sources. Observations of methane isotope ratios, performed with instruments that are becoming increasingly affordable and accurate, could bring new insights on the contributions of methane sources and sinks. Here, we present the source signal that could be observed from methane isotopic 13CH4 measurements if high-resolution observations were available and thus what requirements should be fulfilled in future instrument deployments in terms of accuracy in order to constrain different emission categories. This theoretical study uses the regional chemistry-transport model CHIMERE driven by different scenarios of isotopic signatures for each regional methane source mix. It is found that if the current network of methane monitoring sites were equipped with instruments measuring the isotopic signal continuously, only sites that are significantly influenced by emission sources could differentiate regional emissions with a reasonable level of confidence. For example, wetland emissions require daily accuracies lower than 0.2 ‰ for most of the sites. Detecting East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS) emissions requires accuracies lower than 0.05 ‰ at coastal Russian sites (even lower for other sites). Freshwater emissions would be detectable with an uncertainty lower than 0.1 ‰ for most continental sites. Except Yakutsk, Siberian sites require stringent uncertainty (lower than 0.05 ‰) to detect anthropogenic emissions from oil and gas or coal production. Remote sites such as Zeppelin, Summit, or Alert require a daily uncertainty below 0.05 ‰ to detect any regional sources. These limits vary with the hypothesis on isotopic signatures assigned to the different sources.