Methane source identification and characterisation of D/H isotopic ratios

CASE Award with the National Physical Laboratory (FISHER_R19ARIES)

Methane source identification and characterisation of D/H isotopic ratios

CASE Award with the National Physical Laboratory (FISHER_R19ARIES)

Project Description


Dr Rebecca Fisher (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Dr David Lowry (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Dr Tim Arnold (National Physical Laboratory)

Dr Dave Worton (National Physical Laboratory)

Dr Andrew Smith (British Geological Survey)

Dr James France (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Prof Euan Nisbet (Royal Holloway, University of London)

Scientific Background

Methane in the atmosphere is rising, and the reasons for year to year variations are not well understood. Reductions in methane are vital for the Paris Agreement to succeed. The isotopic composition of methane identifies sources emitting methane to the atmosphere because of characteristic source-specific isotopic signatures. The ability to isotopically fingerprint a methane source from samples taken at some distance from emission location is an important tool for many local and global environmental issues.

RHUL has focussed on measurement of methane δ13C, but is now developing measurement of D/H in methane for which far fewer measurements are made globally. The database of D/H signatures for methane sources has many gaps that need to be filled.

Research Methodology

The PhD student will measure isotopic ratios of D/H in methane by isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) for improved source attribution. Mobile campaigns will be carried out to locate emissions and air samples collected for isotopic analysis from the major methane sources. Ambient air samples will be analysed to compare measured signatures with that expected from inventories.

Collaboration with the British Geological Survey (BGS) will be on the use of IRMS to measure isotopic compositions of methane close to source. Collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) will be on ambient measurements of methane δ13C and δD using laser spectroscopy, as well as on the development of traceability and calibration of isotopic measurements.


Training in field sampling, greenhouse gas analysis, stable isotope analysis, GIS and data interpretation will be given at RHUL. The student will also gain experience in laboratories at NPL and the BGS. The student will be expected to participate in group meetings for ongoing synergistic projects of the GHG group and present findings at international conferences.

Person specification

A good science or engineering degree, preferably with some knowledge of atmospheric science and laboratory experience.


  • Nisbet, E, Dlugokencky, EJ, Manning, MR, Lowry, D, Fisher, R, France, J, Michel, SE, Miller, JB, White, JWC, Vaughn, B, Bousquet, P, Pyle, JA, Warwick, N, Cain, M, Brownlow, R, Zazzeri, G, Lanoiselle, M, Manning, AC, Gloor, E, Worthy, DEJ, Brunke, EG, Labuschagne, C, Wolff, EW & Ganesan, AL 2016, 'Rising atmospheric methane: 2007-14 growth and isotopic shift' Global Biogeochemical Cycles, vol 30, pp. 1-15. DOI: 10.1002/2016GB005406
  • Zazzeri, G, Lowry, D, Fisher, RE, France, JL, Lanoisellé, M, Grimmond, CSB & Nisbet, EG 2017, 'Evaluating methane inventories by isotopic analysis in the London region' Scientific reports, vol 7, no. 1, 4854, pp. 1-13. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-04802-6
  • Rockmann, T, Eyer, S, van der Veen, C, Popa, ME, Tuzson, B, Monteil, G, Houweling, S, Harris, E, Brunner, D, Fischer, H, Zazzeri, G, Lowry, D, Nisbet, EG, Brand, WA, Necki, JM, Emmenegger, L & Mohn, J 2016, 'In situ observations of the isotopic composition of methane at the Cabauw tall tower site' Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, vol 16, no. 16, pp. 10469-10487. DOI: 10.5194/acp-16-10469-2016
  • Fisher, R, France, J, Lowry, D, Lanoiselle, M, Brownlow, R, Pyle, J, Cain, M, Warwick, N, Skiba, U, Drewer, J, Dinsmore, K, Leeson, S, Bauguitte, S, Wellpott, A, O'Shea, S, Allen, G, Gallagher, M, Pitt, J, Percival, C, Bower, K, George, C, Hayman, G, Aalto, T, Lohila, A, Aurela, M, Laurila, T, Crill, P, McCalley, C & Nisbet, E 2017, 'Measurement of the 13C isotopic signature of methane emissions from northern European wetlands' Global Biogeochemical Cycles, vol 31, no. 3, 10.1002/2016GB005504, pp. 605–623. DOI: 10.1002/2016GB005504
  • Warwick, NJ, Cain, ML, Fisher, R, France, JL, Lowry, D, Michel, SE, Nisbet, E, Vaughn, BH, White, JWC & Pyle, JA 2016, 'Using δ13C-CH4 and δD-CH4 to constrain Arctic methane emissions' Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, vol 16, no. 23, pp. 14891-14908. DOI: 10.5194/acp-16-14891-2016

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