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A record of the atmospheric methane sink from formaldehyde in polar ice cores

Abstract

MEASUREMENTS of methane from ice cores show that the atmospheric concentration of methane has more than doubled since industrialization, and was only half of the pre-industrial value during the last ice age1–9. Natural sources of atmospheric methane are mainly biogenic, with the main sink for methane being its reaction with OH radicals. This reaction initiates a chain of reactions involving other trace gases and radicals, one of which is formaldehyde. In the remote troposphere, oxidation of methane followed by other reactions is the main source for formaldehyde. By reconstructing records of atmospheric methane and formaldehyde from ice cores, we can examine changes in sources of methane and in the oxidation capacity of the atmosphere.

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