Publication Details

Laubach, J., Bai, M., Pinares-Patino, C. S., Phillips, F. A., Naylor, T. A., Molano, G., Cardenas Rocha, E. A. & Griffith, D. W. T. (2013). Accuracy of micrometeorological techniques for detecting a change in methane emissions from a herd of cattle. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 176 50-63.


Micrometeorological techniques are effective in measuring methane (CH4) emission rates at the herd scale, but their suitability as verification tools for emissions mitigation depends on the uncertainty with which they can detect a treatment difference. An experiment was designed to test for a range of techniques whether they could detect a change in weekly mean emission rate from a herd of cattle, in response to a controlled change in feed supply. The cattle were kept in an enclosure and fed pasture baleage, of amounts increasing from one week to the next. Methane emission rates were measured at the herd scale by the following techniques: (1) an external tracer-ratio technique, releasing nitrous oxide (N2O) from canisters on the animals’ necks and measuring line-averaged CH4 and N2O mole fractions with Fourier-transform infra-red (FTIR) spectrometers deployed upwind and downwind of the cattle, (2) a mass-budget technique using vertical profiles of wind speed and CH4 mole fraction, (3) a dispersion model, applied separately to CH4 mole fraction data from the FTIR spectrometers, the vertical profile, and a laser system measuring along four paths surrounding the enclosure. For reference, enteric CH4 emissions were also measured at the animal scale on a daily basis, using an enteric tracer-ratio technique (with SF6 as the tracer). The animal-scale technique showed that mean CH4 emissions increased less than linearly with increasing feed intake. The herd-scale techniques showed that the emission rates followed a diurnal pattern, with the maximum about 2 h after the feed was offered. The herd-scale techniques could detect the weekly changes in emission levels, except that the two vertical-profile techniques (mass-budget technique and dispersion model applied to profile) failed to resolve the first step change. The weekly emission rates from the external tracer-ratio technique and the dispersion model, applied to data from either the two FTIR paths or the four laser paths, agreed within ±10% with the enteric tracer-ratio technique. By contrast, the two vertical-profile techniques gave 33–68% higher weekly emission rates. It is shown with a sensitivity study that systematically uneven animal distribution within the enclosure could explain some of this discrepancy. Another cause for bias was the data yield of the vertical-profile techniques being higher at day-time than at night-time, thus giving more weight to times of larger emission rates. The techniques using line-averaged mole fractions were less sensitive to the exact locations of emission sources and less prone to data loss from unsuitable wind directions; these advantages outweighed the lack of a method to calibrate CH4 mole fractions in situ.



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