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Observationally derived rise in methane surface forcing mediated by water vapour trends

Abstract

Atmospheric methane (CH4) mixing ratios exhibited a plateau between 1995 and 2006 and have subsequently been increasing. While there are a number of competing explanations for the temporal evolution of this greenhouse gas, these prominent features in the temporal trajectory of atmospheric CH4 are expected to perturb the surface energy balance through radiative forcing, largely due to the infrared radiative absorption features of CH4. However, to date this has been determined strictly through radiative transfer calculations. Here, we present a quantified observation of the time series of clear-sky radiative forcing by CH4 at the surface from 2002 to 2012 at a single site derived from spectroscopic measurements along with line-by-line calculations using ancillary data. There was no significant trend in CH4 forcing between 2002 and 2006, but since then, the trend in forcing was 0.026 ± 0.006 (99.7% CI) W m2 yr−1. The seasonal-cycle amplitude and secular trends in observed forcing are influenced by a corresponding seasonal cycle and trend in atmospheric CH4. However, we find that we must account for the overlapping absorption effects of atmospheric water vapour (H2O) and CH4 to explain the observations fully. Thus, the determination of CH4 radiative forcing requires accurate observations of both the spatiotemporal distribution of CH4 and the vertically resolved trends in H2O.

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