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Top-down constraints on global N2O emissions at optimal resolution: Application of a new dimension reduction technique

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Kelley C. Wells
  • Dylan B. Millet
  • Nicolas Bousserez
  • Daven K. Henze
  • Timothy J. Griffis
  • Sreelekha Chaliyakunnel
  • Edward J. Dlugokencky
  • Eri Saikawa
  • Gao Xiang
  • Ronald G. Prinn
  • Simon O'Doherty
  • Dickon Young
  • Ray F. Weiss
  • Geoff S. Dutton
  • James W. Elkins
  • Paul B. Krummel
  • Ray Langenfelds
  • L. Paul Steele
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)735-756
Number of pages22
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number2
Early online date22 Jan 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 10 Dec 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jan 2018
DatePublished (current) - Feb 2018


We present top-down constraints on global monthly N2O emissions for 2011 from a multi-inversion approach and an ensemble of surface observations. The inversions employ the GEOS-Chem adjoint and an array of aggregation strategies to test how well current observations can constrain the spatial distribution of global N2O emissions. The strategies include (1) a standard 4D-Var inversion at native model resolution (4° × 5°), (2) an inversion for six continental and three ocean regions, and (3) a fast 4D-Var inversion based on a novel dimension reduction technique employing randomized singular value decomposition (SVD). The optimized global flux ranges from 15.9 TgNyr-1 (SVD-based inversion) to 17.5-17.7 TgNyr-1 (continental-scale, standard 4D-Var inversions), with the former better capturing the extratropical N2O background measured during the HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) airborne campaigns. We find that the tropics provide a greater contribution to the global N2O flux than is predicted by the prior bottom-up inventories, likely due to underestimated agricultural and oceanic emissions. We infer an overestimate of natural soil emissions in the extratropics and find that predicted emissions are seasonally biased in northern midlatitudes. Here, optimized fluxes exhibit a springtime peak consistent with the timing of spring fertilizer and manure application, soil thawing, and elevated soil moisture. Finally, the inversions reveal a major emission underestimate in the US Corn Belt in the bottom-up inventory used here. We extensively test the impact of initial conditions on the analysis and recommend formally optimizing the initial N2O distribution to avoid biasing the inferred fluxes. We find that the SVD-based approach provides a powerful framework for deriving emission information from N2O observations: by defining the optimal resolution of the solution based on the information content of the inversion, it provides spatial information that is lost when aggregating to political or geographic regions, while also providing more temporal information than a standard 4D-Var inversion.

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