Some of the largest heat-trapping methane clouds ever detected are currently floating over New Mexico, Iran and several other “super-emitting” hotspots around the world, according to a new NASA report. .
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming. Although less abundant than carbon dioxide (CO2), methane can trap 80 times more heat pound-for-pound than CO2, according to NASA (opens in a new tab). Human activities such as fossil fuels, natural gas, agriculture and waste industries contribute to methane in the atmosphere, and understanding where methane emission hotspots are can help scientists better understand the atmosphere. humanity’s impact on global warming.
NASA Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (TRANSMIT (opens in a new tab)), which was installed on the International Space Station in July to help scientists understand how dust affects climate changealso managed to detect methane plumes.
EMIT has detected more than 50 methane “super-emitters”, or facilities and infrastructure that emit methane at high rates. These super-emitters are found all over the world, from the southwestern United States to Central Asia and the Middle East.
Related: There’s So Much Methane In This Arctic Lake You Can Set The Air On Fire
Super-emitters spotted by EMIT include an oil field in New Mexico, southeast of Carlsbad; oil and gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan east of the port city of Hazar on the Caspian Sea; and a waste treatment complex south of the Iranian capital Tehran.
The methane plumes from these sources ranged from 2 miles (3.3 kilometers) to 20 miles (32 km) wide, and researchers estimate that these three sources together emit about 170,000 pounds (77,110 kilograms) of methane per hour.
“Some of the plumes detected by EMIT are among the largest ever seen – unlike anything ever seen from space,” said Andrew Thorpe, a scientist leading EMIT methane research at Jet Propulsion. NASA laboratory in Pasadena, California. in a NASA statement. “What we have found in a short time already exceeds our expectations.”
EMIT was originally designed to help researchers understand another atmospheric phenomenon that affects climate – the dust that is swept around the globe of the largest deserts on Earth. The minerals that make up dust can trap or reflect heat, depending on their chemical composition, and until now there has been no instrument capable of producing high-resolution data on these minerals.
EMIT identifies different minerals by spectroscopy or analysis of light reflected from minerals. Each mineral reflects light in a slightly different way, allowing EMIT to identify each mineral like a fingerprint. Because methane also absorbs infrared light in a unique way, EMIT can detect it.
The team expects the instrument to be able to detect hundreds more methane hotspots around the world, allowing scientists to better understand where Earthcomes from methane. Methane doesn’t last as long as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the heat-trapping gas only lasts decades compared to the century-long lifetime of CO2 – and climate experts say reducing emissions of Methane could have a much more immediate (relatively) effect on slowing global warming.
“We were excited to see how EMIT’s mineral data will improve climate modeling,” Kate Calvin, NASA’s chief climate scientist and senior climate adviser, said in the release. “This additional methane sensing capability provides a remarkable opportunity to measure and monitor greenhouse gas that contribute to climate change.”
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