24 Aug 2023
 | 24 Aug 2023
Status: this preprint is open for discussion and under review for Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP).

The suitability of atmospheric oxygen measurements to constrain Western European fossil-fuel CO2 emissions and their trends

Christian Rödenbeck, Karina E. Adcock, Markus Eritt, Maksym Gachkivsky, Christoph Gerbig, Samuel Hammer, Armin Jordan, Ralph F. Keeling, Ingeborg Levin, Fabian Maier, Andrew C. Manning, Heiko Moossen, Saqr Munassar, Penelope A. Pickers, Michael Rothe, Yasunori Tohjima, and Sönke Zaehle

Abstract. Atmospheric measurements of the O2/N2 ratio and the CO2 mole fraction (combined into the conceptual tracer "Atmospheric Potential Oxygen", APO) over continents have been proposed as a constraint on CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel burning. Here we assess the suitability of such APO data to constrain anthropogenic CO2 emissions in Western Europe, with particular focus on their decadal trends. We use an inversion of atmospheric transport to estimate spatially and temporally explicit scaling factors on a bottom-up fossil-fuel emissions inventory. Based on the small number of currently available observational records, our CO2 emissions estimates show relatively large apparent year-to-year variations, exceeding the expected uncertainty of the bottom-up inventory and precluding the calculation of statistically significant trends. We were not able to trace the apparent year-to-year variations back to particular properties of the APO data. Inversion of synthetic APO data, however, confirms that data information content and degrees of freedom are sufficient to successfully correct a counterfactual prior. Larger sets of measurement stations, such as the recently started APO observations from the Integrated Carbon Observation System (ICOS) European research infrastructure, improve the constraint and may ameliorate possible problems with local signals or with measurement or model errors at the stations. We further tested the impact of uncertainties in the O2:CO2 stoichiometries of fossil-fuel burning and land biospheric exchange and found they are not fundamental obstacles to estimating decadal trends in fossil-fuel CO2 emissions, though further work on fossil-fuel O2:CO2 stoichiometries seems necessary.

Christian Rödenbeck et al.

Status: open (until 05 Oct 2023)

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Christian Rödenbeck et al.

Christian Rödenbeck et al.


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Short summary
The carbon dioxide content of the Earth atmosphere is increasing due to human emissions from burning of fossil fuels, causing global climate change. The strength of the fossil-fuel emissions is estimated by inventories based on energy data, but independent validation of these inventories has been recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Here we investigate the potential to validate inventories based on measurements of small changes in the atmospheric oxygen content.