Ethane and propane are the most abundant non-methane hydrocarbons in the atmosphere. However, their emissions, atmospheric distribution, and trends in their atmospheric concentrations are insufficiently understood. Atmospheric model simulations using standard community emission inventories do not reproduce available measurements in the Northern Hemisphere. Here, we show that observations of pre-industrial and present-day ethane and propane can be reproduced in simulations with a detailed atmospheric chemistry transport model, provided that natural geologic emissions are taken into account and anthropogenic fossil fuel emissions are assumed to be two to three times higher than is indicated in current inventories. Accounting for these enhanced ethane and propane emissions results in simulated surface ozone concentrations that are 5–13% higher than previously assumed in some polluted regions in Asia. The improved correspondence with observed ethane and propane in model simulations with greater emissions suggests that the level of fossil (geologic + fossil fuel) methane emissions in current inventories may need re-evaluation.

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This research is funded by the Research Council of Norway through the MOCA (Methane Emissions from the Arctic Ocean to the Atmosphere: Present and Future Climate Effects) project (grant no. 225814). The Flexpart work was partially funded by the Nordic Center of Excellence eSTICC (eScience Tools for Investigating Climate Change in northern high latitudes) funded by Nordforsk (grant 57001). Furthermore, the conclusions of the paper is largely supported and strengthened by the use of globally distributed observational data and we acknowledge all data providers and the great efforts of EMEP, ACTRIS, NOAA ESRL/INSTAAR and The World Data Centre for Greenhouse Gases (WDCGG) under the WMO-GAW programme to make long-term measurements public and available. The Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme ACTRIS-2 Integrating Activities (grant agreement no. 654109) is acknowledged for the work with quality assurance and quality control of NMHC data in Europe. The VOC observations within the NOAA-INSTAAR GGGRN are supported in part by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Program Office’s AC4 Program, and quality control was supported in part by the US National Science Foundation grant no. 1108391. The GLOGOS dataset was kindly provided by CGG Geoconsulting. CGG Geoconsulting also provided us with a derived product from the Global Offshore Seepage Database (GOSD) indicating where offshore seepage occurs.

Author information

Author notes

    • Stig B. Dalsøren

    Present address: Institute of Marine Research, His, Norway


  1. CICERO, Oslo, Norway

    • Stig B. Dalsøren
    • , Gunnar Myhre
    •  & Øivind Hodnebrog
  2. NILU, Kjeller, Norway

    • Cathrine Lund Myhre
    • , Andreas Stohl
    • , Ignacio Pisso
    •  & Norbert Schmidbauer
  3. CIRES, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

    • Stefan Schwietzke
  4. NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, Global Monitoring Division, Boulder, CO, USA

    • Stefan Schwietzke
  5. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria

    • Lena Höglund-Isaksson
  6. Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

    • Detlev Helmig
  7. Empa, Laboratory for Air Pollution/Environmental Technology, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Dübendorf, Switzerland

    • Stefan Reimann
  8. IMT Lille Douai, SAGE, Université de Lille, Lille, France

    • Stéphane Sauvage
  9. Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories, Department of Chemistry, University of York, York, UK

    • Katie A. Read
    • , Lucy J. Carpenter
    • , Alastair C. Lewis
    •  & Shalini Punjabi
  10. Umweltbundesamt, Messnetzzentrale Langen, Langen, Germany

    • Markus Wallasch


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S.B.D., G.M. and Ø.H. designed the study with input from A.S., C.L.M. and I.P. S.B.D performed the simulations with the OsloCTM3 model, analysed the model results and performed the comparisons with measurement data. Ø.H. and G.M. provided assistance with the analysis and comparison studies. I.P performed the simulations with the Flexpart model and I.P. and A.S. analysed the output. S.Schwietzke and L.H.-I. provided the new emission datasets for fugitive fossil fuel emissions. S.B.D. developed gridded inventories for geologic emissions. C.L.M, D.H., S.R., S.S., N.S., K.A.R., L.J.C., A.C.L., S.P. and M.W. provided the observational data for ethane and propane. S.B.D. led the writing of the manuscript in close collaboration with G.M. and Ø.H. All authors contributed to the writing and review of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stig B. Dalsøren.

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