, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 195-229

The Production of Methanol by Flowering Plants and the Global Cycle of Methanol

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Methanol has been recognised as an important constituent of the background atmosphere, but little is known about its overall cycle in the biosphere/atmosphere system. A model is proposed for the production and emission to the atmosphere of methanol by flowering plants based on plant structure and metabolic properties, particularly the demethylation of pectin in the primary cell walls. This model provides a framework to extend seven sets of measurements of methanol emission rates to the global terrestrial biosphere. A global rate of release of methanol from plants to the atmosphere of 100 Tg y−1 is calculated. A separate model of the global cycle of methanol is constructed involving emissions from plant growth and decay, atmospheric and oceanic chemical production, biomass burning and industrial production. Removal processes occur through hydroxyl radical attack in the atmosphere, in clouds and oceans, and wet and dry deposition. The model successfully reproduces the methanol concentrations in the continental boundary-layer and the free atmosphere, including the inter-hemispheric gradient in the free atmosphere. The model demonstrates a new concept in global biogeochemistry, the coupling of plant cell growth with the global atmospheric concentration of methanol. The model indicates that the ocean provides a storage reservoir capable of holding at least 66 times more methanol than the atmosphere. The ocean surface layer reservoir essentially buffers the atmospheric concentration of methanol, providing a physically based smoothing mechanism with a time constant of the order of one year.