March 23, 2023
NASA spies more than 50 greenhouse gas 'super emitters' from ISS

NASA spies more than 50 greenhouse gas ‘super emitters’ from ISS

In April, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that 2021 saw a record increase in atmospheric methane – a harmful greenhouse gas known to contribute to global warming and therefore all the disastrous consequences that come with it.

Consequences such as severe cyclones and floods that destroy people’s homes and lead to appalling amounts of death. Like wildfires that destroy entire cities and increase the risk of cancer.

What is impressive is that this marked the second year in the series that has seen such a huge rise in methane since scientists began monitoring levels of the chemical in 1983. And to make matters worse, the ominous pattern stems from the fact that fossil fuel production, biomass burning, improper waste management and others Human activities produce a lot of methane – yet these activities have increased around the world.

In other words, the way we burn coal for energy and develop huge landfills to store our trash is the crux of the matter.

To figure out exactly where our methane emissions are coming from – so we can try to tackle the biggest sources – NASA overhauled an International Space Station mission to look down on Earth and identify our planet’s methane hotspots.

Called the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation — named for its original work studying how dust affects our climate — but also known as EMIT, the effort found more than 50 of what NASA calls “super-emitters” of methane. These super-emitters include facilities, equipment, and other man-made infrastructure associated with the fossil fuel, waste, and agricultural industries.

“The new observations come from the wide coverage of the planet provided by the space station’s orbit, as well as EMIT’s ability to scan parts of the Earth’s surface tens of miles wide while resolving areas as small as a football field,” said NASA.

A graph showing how fossil fuel consumption has increased worldwide since 1800. It's a highly exponential increase, peaking in 2021.

Our world in data

Scientists with the EMIT program basically took the mission’s spectral data, which reveal chemical fingerprints of specific molecules on Earth from the vantage point, and gleaned clues to the methane signature. As it turned out, methane fell within the spectral range for which EMIT was calibrated, so the subtraction was natural.

“We were eager to see how EMIT’s mineral data would improve climate modeling,” Kate Calvin, NASA’s chief climate scientist and senior advisor, said in a statement. “This additional methane detection capability offers a remarkable opportunity to measure and monitor greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.”

Earth’s methane culprits

In total, the EMIT data found more than five dozen super-emitters in Central Asia, the Middle East and the southwestern United States.

The mission’s instruments detected, for example, a plume of methane about 2 miles (3.3 kilometers) southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the Permian Basin. It’s possible because this area is home to one of the largest oil fields in the world, stretching from this part of New Mexico to western Texas. At this location, the team calculated, an astonishing methane flow rate of about 40,300 pounds (18,300 kg) per hour.

Near Tehran, Iran, a plume of methane spread over at least 3 miles of the landscape near a large landfill. This point appeared to indicate a flow rate of 111,000 pounds (50,400 kg) per hour.

On a Google Maps screen, a purple, yellow and orange blob represents where methane is detected in Turkmenistan

East of Khazar, Turkmenistan, a port city on the Caspian Sea, 12 plumes of methane stream to the west.


In Turkmenistan, the agency said, EMIT detected 12 separate plumes coming from oil and gas facilities east of the Caspian Sea port city of Khazar. While blowing in the wind to the west, some of these methane puffs extended as far as 20 miles. That site, according to a NASA press release, revealed a flow rate of 18,700 pounds per hour.

“Some of the EMIT plumes detected are among the largest ever seen – unlike anything ever seen from space,” said Andrew Thorpe, a research technologist at NASA who leads the methane EMIT effort. “What we found in a short period of time already exceeds our expectations.”

And that’s just scratching the surface of what the team found — plus, what they might find in the future.

On a Google Maps screen, a purple, yellow and orange blob represents where methane is detected near Carlsbad, New Mexico.

This image shows a 2-mile (3-kilometer) methane plume spotted southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico.


Now that it has proven its mettle with areas known to produce a lot of methane, EMIT is going to look in places where no one thought to look for greenhouse gas emissions before and find clouds we might not have expected. Hopefully it will reveal some secret culprits of global warming.

Or, as NASA puts it, “with broad, repeatable coverage from its vantage point on the space station, EMIT will potentially find hundreds of super-emitters – some of them previously detected through measurements in air, space or on the ground, and others that were unknown.”

“Limiting methane emissions is key to curbing global warming. This exciting new development will not only help researchers better identify where methane leaks are coming from, but also provide insights into how they can be addressed – quickly,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. a statement.

Along the way, the mission’s spectrometer can also look for other greenhouse gases: The fingerprint of carbon dioxide—another human-made chemical that contributes to warming our planet—also falls into EMIT’s wavelength range.

“These results are remarkable and demonstrate the value of combining the global-scale perspective with the analysis needed to identify point sources of methane, down to the facility scale,” said David Thompson, EMIT’s instrument scientist and senior researcher at NASA. statement.

“It’s a unique capability that will raise the bar in efforts to attribute methane sources and mitigate emissions from human activities.”

#NASA #spies #greenhouse #gas #super #emitters #ISS

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