May 29, 2023
New NASA instrument detects methane 'super-emitters' from space

New NASA instrument detects methane ‘super-emitters’ from space

The Source of Mineral Dust on the Earth’s Surface (EMIT) Survey has identified more than 50 methane hotspots around the world.

NASA scientists, using a tool designed to study how dust affects the climate, have identified more than 50 methane-emitting hotspots around the world, a development that could help combat the powerful greenhouse gas.

NASA announced Tuesday that its Surface Mineral Source Survey of Earth (EMIT) had detected more than 50 “super-emitters” of methane in Central Asia, the Middle East and the southwestern United States since it was deployed in July to the International Space Station.

Recently measured methane hotspots — some previously known and some just discovered — include extensive oil and gas facilities and large landfills. Methane is responsible for about 30 percent of global warming to date.

“Cutting methane emissions is the key to curbing global warming,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, adding that the instrument will help “spot” methane over-emissions so that such emissions can be stopped “in source”.

By circling the Earth every 90 minutes from its perch on the space station about 400 kilometers high, EMIT is able to scan vast swathes of the planet tens of kilometers long, while focusing on areas as small as a football field.

The instrument, called an imaging spectrometer, was built primarily to identify the mineral composition of dust blown into Earth’s atmosphere from deserts and other arid regions, but it has proven capable of detecting large emissions of methane.

“Some of the [methane] The detected EMIT plumes are among the largest ever seen – unlike anything ever observed from space,” said Andrew Thorpe, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) research technologist who leads the methane studies.

Examples of the new methane plumes JPL showed on Tuesday included a cluster of 12 plumes from oil and gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan, some of which stretch more than 32 kilometers (20 miles).

Scientists estimate that Turkmenistan’s clouds are collectively spewing methane at a rate of 50,400 kilograms (111,000 pounds) an hour, rivaling the peak flow from the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas field explosion near Los Angeles that ranks as one of the largest accidental releases of methane in US history.

Two other major emitters were an oil field in New Mexico and a waste treatment complex in Iran, which together emit nearly 29,000 kilograms (60,000 pounds) of methane per hour. The methane plume south of the Iranian capital Tehran was at least 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) long.

JPL officials said none of the sites were previously known to scientists.

“As it continues to survey the planet, EMIT will observe places that no one thought to look for greenhouse gas emissions before and find plumes that no one expects,” said Robert Green, EMIT principal investigator at JPL. statement.

A byproduct of decaying organic materials and the main component of natural gas used in power plants, methane is responsible for a fraction of all human-made greenhouse emissions, but has about 80 times the pound-for-pound heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.

Compared to CO2, which remains in the atmosphere for centuries, methane only persists for about a decade, meaning that reductions in methane emissions have a more immediate effect on global warming.

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