, Volume 95, Issue 3, pp 203-208,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 16 Oct 2007

Can the envisaged reductions of fossil fuel CO2 emissions be detected by atmospheric observations?


The lower troposphere is an excellent receptacle, which integrates anthropogenic greenhouse gases emissions over large areas. Therefore, atmospheric concentration observations over populated regions would provide the ultimate proof if sustained emissions changes have occurred. The most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), also shows large natural concentration variations, which need to be disentangled from anthropogenic signals to assess changes in associated emissions. This is in principle possible for the fossil fuel CO2 component (FFCO2) by high-precision radiocarbon (14C) analyses because FFCO2 is free of radiocarbon. Long-term observations of 14CO2 conducted at two sites in south-western Germany do not yet reveal any significant trends in the regional fossil fuel CO2 component. We rather observe strong inter-annual variations, which are largely imprinted by changes of atmospheric transport as supported by dedicated transport model simulations of fossil fuel CO2. In this paper, we show that, depending on the remoteness of the site, changes of about 7–26% in fossil fuel emissions in respective catchment areas could be detected with confidence by high-precision atmospheric 14CO2 measurements when comparing 5-year averages if these inter-annual variations were taken into account. This perspective constitutes the urgently needed tool for validation of fossil fuel CO2 emissions changes in the framework of the Kyoto protocol and successive climate initiatives.