Sensitivity studies for a space-based methane lidar mission
Abstract. Methane is the third most important greenhouse gas in the atmosphere after water vapour and carbon dioxide. A major handicap to quantify the emissions at the Earth's surface in order to better understand biosphere-atmosphere exchange processes and potential climate feedbacks is the lack of accurate and global observations of methane. Space-based integrated path differential absorption (IPDA) lidar has potential to fill this gap, and a Methane Remote Lidar Mission (MERLIN) on a small satellite in polar orbit was proposed by DLR and CNES in the frame of a German-French climate monitoring initiative. System simulations are used to identify key performance parameters and to find an advantageous instrument configuration, given the environmental, technological, and budget constraints. The sensitivity studies use representative averages of the atmospheric and surface state to estimate the measurement precision, i.e. the random uncertainty due to instrument noise. Key performance parameters for MERLIN are average laser power, telescope size, orbit height, surface reflectance, and detector noise. A modest-size lidar instrument with 0.45 W average laser power and 0.55 m telescope diameter on a 506 km orbit could provide 50-km averaged methane column measurement along the sub-satellite track with a precision of about 1% over vegetation. The use of a methane absorption trough at 1.65 μm improves the near-surface measurement sensitivity and vastly relaxes the wavelength stability requirement that was identified as one of the major technological risks in the pre-phase A studies for A-SCOPE, a space-based IPDA lidar for carbon dioxide at the European Space Agency. Minimal humidity and temperature sensitivity at this wavelength position will enable accurate measurements in tropical wetlands, key regions with largely uncertain methane emissions. In contrast to actual passive remote sensors, measurements in Polar Regions will be possible and biases due to aerosol layers and thin ice clouds will be minimised.