Articles | Volume 9, issue 1
Research article
23 Jan 2013
Research article |  | 23 Jan 2013

Response of methane emissions from wetlands to the Last Glacial Maximum and an idealized Dansgaard–Oeschger climate event: insights from two models of different complexity

B. Ringeval, P. O. Hopcroft, P. J. Valdes, P. Ciais, G. Ramstein, A. J. Dolman, and M. Kageyama

Abstract. The role of different sources and sinks of CH4 in changes in atmospheric methane ([CH4]) concentration during the last 100 000 yr is still not fully understood. In particular, the magnitude of the change in wetland CH4 emissions at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) relative to the pre-industrial period (PI), as well as during abrupt climatic warming or Dansgaard–Oeschger (D–O) events of the last glacial period, is largely unconstrained. In the present study, we aim to understand the uncertainties related to the parameterization of the wetland CH4 emission models relevant to these time periods by using two wetland models of different complexity (SDGVM and ORCHIDEE). These models have been forced by identical climate fields from low-resolution coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model (FAMOUS) simulations of these time periods. Both emission models simulate a large decrease in emissions during LGM in comparison to PI consistent with ice core observations and previous modelling studies. The global reduction is much larger in ORCHIDEE than in SDGVM (respectively −67 and −46%), and whilst the differences can be partially explained by different model sensitivities to temperature, the major reason for spatial differences between the models is the inclusion of freezing of soil water in ORCHIDEE and the resultant impact on methanogenesis substrate availability in boreal regions. Besides, a sensitivity test performed with ORCHIDEE in which the methanogenesis substrate sensitivity to the precipitations is modified to be more realistic gives a LGM reduction of −36%. The range of the global LGM decrease is still prone to uncertainty, and here we underline its sensitivity to different process parameterizations. Over the course of an idealized D–O warming, the magnitude of the change in wetland CH4 emissions simulated by the two models at global scale is very similar at around 15 Tg yr−1, but this is only around 25% of the ice-core measured changes in [CH4]. The two models do show regional differences in emission sensitivity to climate with much larger magnitudes of northern and southern tropical anomalies in ORCHIDEE. However, the simulated northern and southern tropical anomalies partially compensate each other in both models limiting the net flux change. Future work may need to consider the inclusion of more detailed wetland processes (e.g. linked to permafrost or tropical floodplains), other non-wetland CH4 sources or different patterns of D–O climate change in order to be able to reconcile emission estimates with the ice-core data for rapid CH4 events.