New NASA instrument detects methane 'super-emitters' from space

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

The EMIT (Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation) study 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 potent greenhouse gas.

NASA said on Tuesday that its Earth Surface Mineral Dust Sources (EMIT) survey had identified more than 50 methane “super-emitters” in Central Asia, the Middle East and the southwestern United States. United States since its installation in July aboard the International Space Station.

Newly measured methane hotspots – some already known and others recently discovered – include vast oil and gas facilities and large landfills. Methane is responsible for about 30% of the global temperature increase to date.

“Containing methane emissions is key to limiting global warming,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement, adding that the instrument will help “identify” methane super-emitters so that these emissions can be stopped “at the source”.

Circling the Earth every 90 minutes from its perch aboard the space station some 400 km (250 miles) high, EMIT is able to scan large swaths of the planet for tens of kilometers while also 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 the Earth’s atmosphere from deserts and other arid regions, but has proven adept at detecting large emissions of methane.

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

Examples of newly imaged methane super-emitters shown by JPL on Tuesday included a cluster of 12 plumes from oil and gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan, with some plumes extending more than 20 miles (32 km).

Scientists estimate that plumes from Turkmenistan collectively spew methane at a rate of 50,400 kg (111,000 pounds) per hour, rivaling the peak flow rate of the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas field explosion near Los Angeles , which ranks as one of the largest accidental releases of methane in US history.

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

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

“As it continues to study the planet, EMIT will observe places no one previously thought to look for greenhouse gas emitters, and it will find plumes no one expects,” said Robert Green, EMIT Principal Investigator at JPL, in a statement. statement.

A by-product of the breakdown of organic matter and the main component of natural gas used in power plants, methane accounts for a fraction of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, but has about 80 times the ability to heat trapping pound for pound than carbon dioxide. .

Compared to CO2, which persists 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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