Greenhouse Gases in the Earth System

Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2012. Source: NASA

Understanding and quantifying Greenhouse Gases (GHG) emissions is central to international efforts to slow their growth rate in the atmosphere, in order to mitigate the humanitarian and economic impacts of climate change. This web resource is aimed at PhD students and postdoctoral/early-career researchers working in the natural sciences who want to develop a solid understanding of the role of key greenhouse gases in the Earth system and the processes that govern their dynamics in the atmosphere, ocean and biosphere.


The resources included here are split into a number of themes:

Science Policy & Law

Climate change can be seen as one of the biggest environmental challenges for humans for the foreseeable future. Research into greenhouse gases is driven not just by only by scientific curiosity, but also by the practical need to understand their role in the global climate system and mitigate human impacts.

The presentations in this section discuss the issues and challenges around translating scientific understanding into practical policy action


Long-term monitoring of the atmosphere is vital in obtaining greater understanding of the processes involved in climate change and ozone depletion.

The presentations in this section introduce atmospheric measurements, outline the theory of measurements and specific techniques, and discuss the inverse and transport modelling of atmospheric trace gases


The oceans are a major sink of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2). We need to understand the mechanisms of gas exchange at the air-sea interface and the factors that influence these mechanisms.

The presentations in this section discuss the relevant physical, chemical and biological processes in the oceans, the issues and challenges around marine observations and measurements and the changes that the marine carbon cycle has experienced in the past and the present and is expected to see in the near future.


The terrestrial biosphere is a key component of the global carbon cycle: as large a sink of anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) as the oceans, but with human-derived land-use change also a significant source of CO2 to the atmosphere. The presentations in this section discuss the relevant physical, chemical and biological processes affecting the gas fluxes between the plant biota, the forest floor (i.e. soil, litter, ground vegetation) and the atmosphere, and the overall projections for terrestrial ecosystem respiration and production into the future. 


Overview: Greenhouse Gases and the Carbon Cycle

Global carbon cycle - natural (black) anthropogenic (red)

Greenhouse Gases and the Carbon Cycle: An Overview

Prof Andrew Watson (University of Exeter)


Our most fundamental source of information on the rise of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere comes from atmospheric monitoring observations of CO2, and CH4. This presentation examines some of the deductions about the carbon cycle that can be made from these observations concerning the natural sources and sinks of CO2 and CH4 and how they are changing with time. For the last two decades, we also have information about the ocean source and sink of atmospheric CO2 from millions of sea surface measurements, further constrain changes in the carbon cycle, especially when combined with atmospheric observations and inversion techniques.


[Andrew Watson: Greenhouse Gases and the Carbon Cycle (Content not currently available)] 




[The material on this website is based on lectures and activities that were developed for a series of residential summer schools held in 2015 at the University of Edinburgh and in 2016 at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton [as part of the Greenhouse Gas UK and Global Emissions (GAUGE) / Radiatively Active Gases from the N.Atlantic Region & Climate Change (RAGNARoCC) / Generating Regional Emissions Estimates with a Novel hierarchy of Observations and Upscaled Simulation Experiments (GREENHOUSE) projects] and in 2017 at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton as part of a NERC Advanced Short Training Course. This website was funded by the NERC Advanced Short Training Course 'Multidisciplinary training in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, oceans and terrestrial biosphere summer school' (NE/P020615/1). Content was collated by Dr Peter Brown (National Oceanography Centre) and Dr Stephan Matthiesen (University of Edinburgh). More content will be added as it becomes available.]