Using satellite data to identify the methane emission controls of South Sudan's wetlands

Sudhanshu Pandey*, Sander Houweling, Alba Lorente, Tobias Borsdorff, Maria Tsivlidou, A. Anthony Bloom, Benjamin Poulter, Zhen Zhang, Ilse Aben

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) provides observations of atmospheric methane (CH4) at an unprecedented combination of high spatial resolution and daily global coverage. Hu et al. (2018) reported unexpectedly large methane enhancements over South Sudan in these observations. Here we assess methane emissions from the wetlands of South Sudan using 2 years (December 2017-November 2019) of TROPOMI total column methane observations. We estimate annual wetland emissions of 7.4±3.2 Tg yr-1, which agrees with the multiyear GOSAT inversions of Lunt et al. (2019) but is an order of magnitude larger than estimates from wetland process models. This disagreement may be explained by the underestimation (by up to 4 times) of inundation extent by the hydrological schemes used in those models. We investigate the seasonal cycle of the emissions and find the lowest emissions during the June-August season when the process models show the largest emissions. Using satellite-altimetry-based river water height measurements, we infer that this seasonal mismatch is likely due to a seasonal mismatch in inundation extent. In models, inundation extent is controlled by regional precipitation scaled to static wetland extent maps, whereas the actual inundation extent is driven by water inflow from rivers like the White Nile and the Sobat. We find the lowest emissions in the highest precipitation and lowest temperature season (June-August, JJA) when models estimate large emissions. In general, our emission estimates show better agreement in terms of both seasonal cycle and annual mean with model estimates that use a stronger temperature dependence. This suggests that temperature might be a stronger control for the South Sudan wetlands emissions than currently assumed by models. Our findings demonstrate the use of satellite instruments for quantifying emissions from inaccessible and uncertain tropical wetlands, providing clues for the improvement of process models and thereby improving our understanding of the currently uncertain contribution of wetlands to the global methane budget.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)557-572
Number of pages16
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Financial support. This research has been supported by the Nether-

Publisher Copyright:
© Author(s) 2021.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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