Wetlands of the Amazon River basin are globally significant sources of atmospheric methane. Satellite remote sensing (passive and active microwave) of the temporally varying extent of inundation and vegetation was combined with field measurements to calculate regional rates of methane emission for Amazonian wetlands. Monthly inundation areas for the fringing floodplains of the mainstem Solimões/Amazon River were derived from analysis of the 37 GHz polarization difference observed by the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer from 1979 to 1987. L-band synthetic aperture radar data (Japanese Earth Resources Satellite-1) were used to determine inundation and wetland vegetation for the Amazon basin (<500 m elevation) at high (May–June 1996) and low water (October 1995). An extensive set of measurements of methane emission is available from the literature for the fringing floodplains of the central Amazon, segregated into open water, flooded forest and floating macrophyte habitats. Uncertainties in the regional emission rates were determined by Monte Carlo error analyses that combined error estimates for the measurements of emission and for calculations of inundation and habitat areas. The mainstem Solimões/Amazon floodplain (54–70°W) emitted methane at a mean annual rate of 1.3 Tg C yr−1, with a standard deviation (SD) of the mean of 0.3 Tg C yr−1; 67% of this range in uncertainty is owed to the range in rates of methane emission and 33% is owed to uncertainty in the areal estimates of inundation and vegetative cover. Methane emission from a 1.77 million square kilometers area in the central basin had a mean of 6.8 Tg C yr−1 with a SD of 1.3 Tg C yr−1. If extrapolated to the whole basin below the 500 m contour, approximately 22 Tg C yr−1 is emitted; this mean flux has a greenhouse warming potential of about 0.5 Pg C as CO2. Improvement of these regional estimates will require many more field measurements of methane emission, further examination of remotely sensed data for types of wetlands not represented in the central basin, and process-based models of methane production and emission.
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