Understanding the glacial methane cycle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Peter Hopcroft
  • Paul J. Valdes
  • Fiona M. O'Connor
  • Jed O. Kaplan
  • David J. Beerling

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Met Office
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Lausanne
  • University of Sheffield


Atmospheric methane (CH 4) varied with climate during the Quaternary, rising from a concentration of 375 p.p.b.v. during the last glacial maximum (LGM) 21,000 years ago, to 680 p.p.b.v. at the beginning of the industrial revolution. However, the causes of this increase remain unclear; proposed hypotheses rely on fluctuations in either the magnitude of CH 4 sources or CH 4 atmospheric lifetime, or both. Here we use an Earth System model to provide a comprehensive assessment of these competing hypotheses, including estimates of uncertainty. We show that in this model, the global LGM CH 4 source was reduced by 28-46%, and the lifetime increased by 2-8%, with a best-estimate LGM CH 4 concentration of 463-480 p.p.b.v. Simulating the observed LGM concentration requires a 46-49% reduction in sources, indicating that we cannot reconcile the observed amplitude. This highlights the need for better understanding of the effects of low CO 2 and cooler climate on wetlands and other natural CH 4 sources.


Original languageEnglish
Article number14383
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2017