Quantifying methane and nitrous oxide emissions from the UK and Ireland using a national-scale monitoring network

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Atmos. Chem. Phys., Volume 15, Issue 11, p.6393 - 6406 (2015)






The UK is one of several countries around the world that has enacted legislation to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. In this study, we present top-down emissions of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) for the UK and Ireland over the period August~2012 to August~2014. These emissions were inferred using measurements from a network of four sites around the two countries. We used a hierarchical Bayesian inverse framework to infer fluxes as well as a set of covariance parameters that describe uncertainties in the system. We inferred average UK total emissions of 2.09 (1.65–2.67) Tg yr−1 CH4 and 0.101 (0.068–0.150) Tg yr−1 N2O and found our derived UK estimates to be generally lower than the a priori emissions, which consisted primarily of anthropogenic sources and with a smaller contribution from natural sources. We used sectoral distributions from the UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) to determine whether these discrepancies can be attributed to specific source sectors. Because of the distinct distributions of the two dominant CH4 emissions sectors in the UK, agriculture and waste, we found that the inventory may be overestimated in agricultural CH4 emissions. We found that annual mean N2O emissions were consistent with both the prior and the anthropogenic inventory but we derived a significant seasonal cycle in emissions. This seasonality is likely due to seasonality in fertilizer application and in environmental drivers such as temperature and rainfall, which are not reflected in the annual resolution inventory. Through the hierarchical Bayesian inverse framework, we quantified uncertainty covariance parameters and emphasized their importance for high-resolution emissions estimation. We inferred average model errors of approximately 20 and 0.4 ppb and correlation timescales of 1.0 (0.72–1.43) and 2.6 (1.9–3.9) days for CH4 and N2O, respectively. These errors are a combination of transport model errors as well as errors due to unresolved emissions processes in the inventory. We found the largest CH4 errors at the Tacolneston station in eastern England, which may be due to sporadic emissions from landfills and offshore gas in the North Sea.