EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Improved isotopic characterisation of methane emissions from biomass burning

Rebecca Fisher1, Euan Nisbet1, James France1, Amber Riddle1, David Lowry1, Mathias Lanoiselle1, Xinyi Lu2, and Bryce Kelly2
Rebecca Fisher et al.
  • 1Dept. of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London, Earth Sciences, Egham, United Kingdom (
  • 2School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW Sydney, 2052, New South Wales, Australia

Emissions of methane from combustion sources are typically distinguished by being enriched in 13C and 2H, causing a large isotopic shift to atmospheric methane δ13C and δD measurements downwind of fires.

The isotopic composition of the plant material being burnt has a strong effect on the isotopic composition of methane, with combustion of C4 plant material producing methane more enriched in 13C than C3 plant combustion. Characterisation of the bulk isotopic signature of methane emitted from large areas of biomass burning is required to improve our ability to use isotopes in global models and ascertain the extent to which fire emissions influence interannual variations in the methane budget.

Two approaches have been used to collect air samples from large areas of biomass burning for isotopic characterisation of methane emitted from the fires. In campaigns in Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Finland, the UK’s FAAM research aircraft flew through fire plumes and onboard measurement of methane concentration allowed targeted sampling within the plumes. This work was carried out as part of the NERC highlight Global Methane Budget project (MOYA). Ground based sampling downwind of fires around Sydney, New South Wales in late 2019/early 2020 has allowed isotopic characterisation of those plumes. All air samples were measured by isotope ratio mass spectrometry at Royal Holloway University of London and Keeling plots used to identify source signatures, e.g. δ13C for fires in Senegal in March 2017 was -28.5 ± 0,8 , typical of C3 burning.

In this work we compare the isotopic signatures of methane from burning in these particular regions and discuss the extent to which the regional variability of the isotopic composition of fire emissions should be taken into account in global models using isotopes to constrain the global methane budget.

How to cite: Fisher, R., Nisbet, E., France, J., Riddle, A., Lowry, D., Lanoiselle, M., Lu, X., and Kelly, B.: Improved isotopic characterisation of methane emissions from biomass burning, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-17468,, 2020


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