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Modern Records of Atmospheric Methane (CH4) and a 2000-year Ice-core Record from Law Dome, Antarctica
This page provides an introduction and links to records of atmospheric methane (CH4) over the last 2000 years, emphasizing large data bases each representing currently active stations. Records in recent decades (time period depending on location) have been obtained from samples of ambient-air at remote locations, which represent global atmospheric conditions rather than influences of local sources. The longer (2000-year) record is from the Law Dome ice core in Antarctica. The ice-core record has been merged with modern annual data from Cape Grim, Tasmania to provide a 2000-year record ending with the most recent data. A spline function has been fit to the data to provide a continuous time series of annual values. Longer-term records from Antarctic ice cores, back to 800,000 years before present, are available here.
The World Data Center for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG) provides data for stations around the world. In addition to the remote stations that reflect global background conditions, many stations are located in areas influenced by large regional sources. These records may be useful for investigating influences of such sources on CH4 concentrations.
The following organizations have current data from multiple sites.
- The Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) and its European counterpart, the System for Observation of halogenated Greenhouse gases in Europe (SOGE)
- The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia, particularly David Etheridge who suggested the Law Dome data be included, and who provided it
- The Global Monitoring Division, Earth System Research Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- The World Data Center for Paleoclimatology at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which archives the ice-core data
- The WDCGG archives modern data obtained from instruments at locations around the world. These data may not always be as up to date as those from the individual sources listed above, but this site provides greater geographical coverage.
- CDIAC maintains records for additional individual locations covering limited time periods.
Period of Record
0 C.E. - Current
- Locations of modern CH4 sampling stations for AGAGE/SOGE and CSIRO.
- NOAA locations. Click on a location to see which gases are measured there.
- WDCGG locations. Select CH4 from the parameter list.
A map of Antarctic stations is given below, along with a detailed map of the Law Dome area.
Maps of Antarctica showing locations of the stations listed below; elevations are given in meters above sea level (masl). Law Dome (66°44'S, 112°50'E, 1390 masl), Dome C (75°06'S, 123°24'E, 3233 masl), Taylor Dome 77°48'S, 158°43'E, 2365 masl), Vostok (78°28'S, 106°52'E, 3500 masl), Dome A, (80°22'S, 77°22'°E, 4084 masl), the South Pole station (90°S, 2810 masl), and Siple Station (75°55'S, 83°55'W, 1054 masl.) The detailed map on the right is adapted from Etheridge et al. (1996), adapted, in turn, from Hamley et al. (1986).
- AGAGE: CH4 mole fraction (ppb) for Ireland, Oregon/California, Barbados, Samoa, and Tasmania
- CSIRO: For more detailed CO2 graphics at Cape Grim, Tasmania, go here. Immediately below the graph on the left hand side you will find a selection bar, select "methane".
- NOAA: This link gets to the visualization page for all gases. Move mouse over any point on the map to get the 3-letter station code (e.g. SPO is the South Pole).
- WDCGG: Global trends and growth rates
- CDIAC: 50-year moving averages of spline-function values of CH4, CO2, and N2O.
- AGAGE: Continuous high frequency gas chromatographic measurements of biogenic/anthropogenic gases.
- CSIRO: One folder only provides isotope 13CO2 data for all stations, other files are found in another folder.
- NOAA: Select methane from the second column.
- WDCGG: Select CH4 from the parameter list. Search within a particular country or territory. Select CH4 from the parameter list and select a country/territory. Quickly Search all greenhouse-gas data by species. Searches may distinguish between mobile and stationary platforms.
- LAW DOME: A complete set of all Law Dome records, including the 2000-year time series of ice-core data merged with the modern cape-grim record.
- A previous record from Law Dome is also archived on CDIAC.
- CDIAC: In addition, data and graphics for individual locations covering limited time periods in recent decades are available from CDIAC:
- Carbon-13 Isotopic Abundance and Concentration of Atmospheric Methane for Background Air in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres from 1978 to 1989.
- Measurements of Atmospheric Methane and 13C/12C of Atmospheric Methane from Flask Air Samples (1999).
- Atmospheric Methane at Cape Meares, Oregon, U.S.A.: A High-Resolution Data Base for the Period 1979-1992.
- Methane, Nonmethane Hydrocarbons, Alkyl Nitrates, and Chlorinated Carbon Compounds including 3 Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC-11, CFC-12, and CFC-113) in Whole-air Samples.
- Mixing Ratios of CO, CO2, CH4, and Isotope Ratios of Associated 13C, 18O, and 2H in Air Samples from Niwot Ridge, Colorado, and Montaña de Oro, California, USA (January 2004).
Samples are analyzed using gas chromatography followed by flame ionization to produce ions in quantities which produce a measureable electronic signal. More detail on sampling, preparation, and measurement by NOAA is given for CH4 in Dlugokencky et al. (2005). AGAGE data were obtained in a generally similar fashion; details on the AGAGE air sampling, preparation, and measurement process are found in Prinn et al. (2000), and on this web page. Information about the CSIRO sampling program is given in Francey (2003). Current information on reference scales and other details of measurement may be found at the following links:
Law Dome Ice Core Data
Air was extracted from the ice core samples using a dry extraction "cheese grater" and cryogenic trapping technique developed by Etheridge et al. (1996) with only minor alterations (MacFarling Meure, 2004). The trapped air samples were analyzed by gas chromatography and the trace gas concentrations are reported on the calibration scales maintained by CSIRO GASLAB (Francey et al., 2003).
The ice cores were dated by counting the annual layers of oxygen isotope ratio (δ18O in H2O), of ice electroconductivity measurements (ECM) and of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). For these three parameters, each core displayed clear, well-preserved seasonal cycles allowing a dating accuracy of about 5 years, and exact dating in recent centuries where material from known volcanoes is present. The Law Dome data were merged with modern deseasonalised flask and in situ records for CH4 at Cape Grim, Tasmania, and a spline function was fit to the result to provide a continuous time series of annual values extending back approximately 2000 years before the present.
For more details about methodology see the CDIAC Law Dome Methods page.
Atmospheric methane began its modern upswing around 1800, 50-100 years before carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide did. This is possibly due to an expanding agriculture. Focusing on the last few decades, atmospheric methane was steadily increasing before leveling off temporarily during the first few years of the 21st Century. It began to increase again around 2007. (see this graph)
Northern Hemisphere amounts change before those in the Southern Hemisphere, suggesting the Northern Hemisphere is the net source of the overall increase. However, locations of sources and sinks and the nature of the processes involved, preclude any simple explanations. Natural sources of methane include wetlands and microorganisms in the digestive systems of animals. Recent methane increases also arise from mining, fossil-fuel extraction and processing, and from landfills as well as from expansion and intensification of agriculture. The major atmospheric sink is removal by the hydroxyl radical.
References to Ice-Core Data
The Law Dome record consists of ice-core data, firn data, and atmospheric samples at Cape Grim Tasmania. Newer results which fill in gaps, double the length of record from approximately 1000 years to 2000 years, and include CH4, were published and explained in detail in MacFarling Meure 2004 and MacFarling Meure et al. 2006. Some new CH4 results were also published in Ferretti et al. 2005.
- Etheridge, D.M., G.I. Pearman and F. de Silva. 1988. Atmospheric trace-gas variations as revealed by air trapped in an ice core from Law Dome, Antarctica. Ann. Glaciol. 10, 28-33.
- Etheridge, D.M., L.P. Steele, R.L. Langenfelds, R.J. Francey, J.-M. Barnola and V.I. Morgan. 1996. Natural and anthropogenic changes in atmospheric CO2 over the last 1000 years from air in Antarctic ice and firn. Journal of Geophysical Research 101, 4115-4128.
- Ferretti, D.F., J.B. Miller, J.W.C. White, D.M. Etheridge, K.R. Lassey, et al. 2005. Unexpected Changes to the Global Methane Budget over the Last 2,000 Years. Science 309 (5741): 1714-1717.
- Hamley. T.C., V.I. Morgan, R.J. Thwaites, and X.Q Gao. 1986. An ice-core drilling site at Law Dome summit. Wilkes Land, Antarctica, Research Note 37, Australian Antarctic Research Expedition, Tasmania.
- MacFarling Meure, C. 2004. The natural and anthropogenic variations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide during the Holocene from ice core analysis. PhD thesis, University of Melbourne.
- MacFarling Meure, C., D. Etheridge, C. Trudinger, P. Steele, R. Langenfelds, T. van Ommen, A. Smith and J. Elkins. 2006. The Law Dome CO2, CH4 and N2O Ice Core Records Extended to 2000 years BP. Geophysical Research Letters 33, 14, L14810 10.1029/2006GL026152.
- Morgan, V.I., C.W. Wookey, J. Li, T.D. van Ommen, W. Skinner and M.F. Fitzpatrick. 1997. Site information and initial results from deep ice drilling on Law Dome. J. Glaciol. 43, 3-10.
- Trudinger, C.M., I.G. Enting, D.M. Etheridge, R.J. Francey, V.A. Levchenko, et al. 1997. Modeling air movement and bubble trapping in firn. Journal of Geophysical Research 102, (D6) 6747-6763.
References Specific to the Law Dome 2000-year Ice-Core Record
- Francey, R. J., L.P. Steele, D.A. Spencer, R.L. Langenfelds, R.M. Law, et al. 2003. The CSIRO measurement of greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere, in Baseline Atmospheric Program (Australia), 1999–2000, edited by N. W. Tindale, N. Derek and P. J. Fraser, Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO Atmospheric Research, Melbourne, Australia (pp. 42-53).
- Langenfelds, R.L., P.J. Fraser, R.J. Francey, L.P. Steele, L.W. Porter and C.E. Allison. 1996. The Cape Grim air archive: The first seventeen years, 1978-1995, In: Baseline Atmospheric Program (Australia) 1994-1995. edited by Francey, R.J., A.L. Dick, and N. Derek, Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research, Melbourne, Australia. (pp. 53-70).
- Langenfelds, R.L., L.P. Steele, M.V. Van der Schoot, L.N. Cooper, D.A. Spencer and P.B. Krummel. 2004. Atmospheric methane, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide from Cape Grim flask air samples analysed by gas chromatography. In: Baseline Atmospheric Program Australia. 2001-2002, edited by J.M. Cainey, N. Derek, and P.B. Krummel. Melbourne: Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO Atmospheric Research. (pp. 46-47).
- Langenfelds, R.L., P.J. Fraser, L.P. Steele and L.W. Porter. 2004. Archiving of Cape Grim Air. In: Baseline Atmospheric Program Australia. 2001-2002, edited by J.M. Cainey, N. Derek and P.B. Krummel. Melbourne: Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO Atmospheric Research. (p. 48).
- Rigby, P.G., R.G. Prinn, R.G. Fraser, P.G. Simmonds, R.L. Langenfelds, et al. 2008. Renewed growth of atmospheric methane, Geophysical Research Letters 35, L22805, doi:10.1029/2008GL036037.
- Cunnold, D.M., L.P. Steele, P.J. Fraser, P.G. Simmonds, R.G. Prinn, R.F. Weiss, L.W. Porter, R.L. Langenfelds, H.J. Wang, L. Emmons, X.X. Tie, and E.J. Dlugokencky. 2002. in situ measurements of atmospheric methane at GAGE/AGAGE sites during 1985-2000 and resulting source inferences. J. Geophys. Res. 107 (D14), 4225. doi:10.1029/2001JD001226.
- Dlugokencky, E.J., R.C. Myers, P.M. Lang, K.A. Masarie, A.M. Crotwell, et al. 2005. Conversion of NOAA atmospheric dry air CH4 mole fractions to a gravimetrically prepared standard scale, Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres 110(D18), 10.1029/2005JD006035.
- Dlugokencky, E. J., L. Bruhwiler, J. W. C. White, L. K. Emmons, P. C. Novelli, et al. 2009. Observational constraints on recent increases in the atmospheric CH4 burden, Geophysical Research Letters 36, L18803, doi:10.1029/2009GL039780.
- Miller, B. R., R. F. Weiss, P. K. Salameh, T. Tanhua, B. R. Greally, J. Mühle, P. G. Simmonds. 2008. Medusa: A Sample Preconcentration and GC/MS Detector System for in situ Measurements of Atmospheric Trace Halocarbons, Hydrocarbons, and Sulfur Compounds, /Analytical Chemistry/., ASAP Article; doi: 10.1021/ac702084k.
- Prinn, R.G., R.F. Weiss, P.J. Fraser, P.G. Simmonds, D.M. Cunnold, F.N. Alyea, S. O'Doherty, P. Salameh, B.R. Miller, J. Huang, R.H.J. Wang, D.E. Hartley, C. Harth, L.P. Steele, G. Sturrock, P.M. Midgley, and A. McCulloch. 2000. A History of Chemically and Radiatively Important Gases in Air deduced from ALE/GAGE/AGAGE, J. of Geophys. Res.-Atmospheres 105 (D14), 17,751-17,792.
- Rigby, R. G., Prinn, P. J. Fraser, P. G. Simmonds, R. L. Langenfelds, J. Huang, D. M. Cunnold, L. P. Steele, P. B. Krummel, R. F. Weiss, S. O’Doherty, P. K. Salameh, H. J. Wang, C. M. Harth, J. Mühle, and L. W. Porter. 2008. Renewed growth of atmospheric methane, Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L22805. doi:10.1029/2008GL036037.
Citing This Material
Modern CH4 Data
- AGAGE: The general reference for AGAGE data is: Prinn et al. 2000; for CH4 , see also Cunnold et al., 2002, and Rigby et al. 2008. These references are given above.
- CSIRO: CSIRO requests that use of these data in any paper or presentation be accompanied by acknowledgement of the source of the data (CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research GASLAB) and that the version of the data (as specified by release date) be explicitly stated.
- NOAA: Citations for NOAA data are given in "readme" files for each species.
- WDCGG: Citation instructions are given in red on the WDCGG home page. By use of these data "you accept that an offer of co-authorship will be made through personal contact with the data providers or owners whenever substantial use is made of their data. In all cases, an acknowledgement must be made to the data providers or owners and the data centre when these data are used within a publication."
Law Dome Ice Core Data
These records are maintained by the World Data Center for Paleoclimatology at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. For data including the Law dome ice-core records alone or merged with the Cape Grim data, cite:
We recommend also citing: MacFarling-Meure, et al. 2006 and, Etheridge 1996 from the references above.
If accessing the data from this site: please also cite: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy.
If citing material from this page only, cite as: Modern Records of Atmospheric Methane (CH4) and a 2000-year Ice-core Record from Law Dome Ice Cores in Antarctica, Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. http://cdiac.ess-dive.lbl.gov/trends/atm_meth/modern_methane.html