Evaluation of column-averaged methane in models and TCCON with a focus on the stratosphere
Abstract. The distribution of methane (CH4) in the stratosphere can be a major driver of spatial variability in the dry-air column-averaged CH4 mixing ratio (XCH4), which is being measured increasingly for the assessment of CH4 surface emissions. Chemistry-transport models (CTMs) therefore need to simulate the tropospheric and stratospheric fractional columns of XCH4 accurately for estimating surface emissions from XCH4. Simulations from three CTMs are tested against XCH4 observations from the Total Carbon Column Network (TCCON). We analyze how the model–TCCON agreement in XCH4 depends on the model representation of stratospheric CH4 distributions. Model equivalents of TCCON XCH4 are computed with stratospheric CH4 fields from both the model simulations and from satellite-based CH4 distributions from MIPAS (Michelson Interferometer for Passive Atmospheric Sounding) and MIPAS CH4 fields adjusted to ACE-FTS (Atmospheric Chemistry Experiment Fourier Transform Spectrometer) observations. Using MIPAS-based stratospheric CH4 fields in place of model simulations improves the model–TCCON XCH4 agreement for all models. For the Atmospheric Chemistry Transport Model (ACTM) the average XCH4 bias is significantly reduced from 38.1 to 13.7 ppb, whereas small improvements are found for the models TM5 (Transport Model, version 5; from 8.7 to 4.3 ppb) and LMDz (Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique model with zooming capability; from 6.8 to 4.3 ppb). Replacing model simulations with MIPAS stratospheric CH4 fields adjusted to ACE-FTS reduces the average XCH4 bias for ACTM (3.3 ppb), but increases the average XCH4 bias for TM5 (10.8 ppb) and LMDz (20.0 ppb). These findings imply that model errors in simulating stratospheric CH4 contribute to model biases. Current satellite instruments cannot definitively measure stratospheric CH4 to sufficient accuracy to eliminate these biases. Applying transport diagnostics to the models indicates that model-to-model differences in the simulation of stratospheric transport, notably the age of stratospheric air, can largely explain the inter-model spread in stratospheric CH4 and, hence, its contribution to XCH4. Therefore, it would be worthwhile to analyze how individual model components (e.g., physical parameterization, meteorological data sets, model horizontal/vertical resolution) impact the simulation of stratospheric CH4 and XCH4.