Atmospheric radiocarbon measurements to quantify CO2 emissions in the UK from 2014 to 2015

Angelina Wenger, Matthew Rigby, Alistair J Manning, Simon O'Doherty, Emily D E White, Mark Lunt, Katherine Pugsley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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We present Δ14CO2 observations and related greenhouse gas measurements at a background site in Ireland (Mace Head, MHD) and a tall tower site in the east of the UK (Tacolneston, TAC) that is more strongly influenced by fossil fuel sources. These observations have been used to calculate the contribution of fossil fuel sources to the atmospheric CO2 mole fractions; this can be done, as emissions from fossil fuels do not contain 14CO2 and cause a depletion in the observed Δ14CO2 value. The observations are compared to simulated values. Two corrections need to be applied to radiocarbon-derived fossil fuel CO2 (ffCO2): one for pure 14CO2 emissions from nuclear industry sites and one for a disequilibrium in the isotopic signature of older biospheric emissions (heterotrophic respiration) and CO2 in the atmosphere. Measurements at both sites were found to only be marginally affected by 14CO2 emissions from nuclear sites. Over the study period of 2014–2015, the biospheric correction and the correction for nuclear 14CO2 emissions were similar at 0.34 and 0.25 ppm ffCO2 equivalent, respectively. The observed ffCO2 at the TAC tall tower site was not significantly different from simulated values based on the EDGAR 2010 bottom-up inventory. We explored the use of high-frequency CO observations as a tracer of ffCO2 by deriving a constant ratio of CO enhancements to ffCO2 ratio for the mix of UK fossil fuel sources. This ratio was found to be 5.7 ppb ppm−1, close to the value predicted using inventories and the atmospheric model of 5.1 ppb ppm−1. The TAC site, in the east of the UK, was strategically chosen to be some distance from pollution sources so as to allow for the observation of well-integrated air masses. However, this distance from pollution sources and the large measurement uncertainty in 14CO2 lead to a large overall uncertainty in the ffCO2, being around 1.8 ppm compared to typical enhancements of 2 ppm.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14057-14070
Number of pages14
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 22 Nov 2019


  • Radiocarbon
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • fossil fuels
  • emissions
  • 14CO2
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • nuclear industry
  • emission inventory
  • Mace Head
  • Tacolneston


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