More than 50 methane-emitting hotspots have been found worldwide by NASA scientists using a technique created to research how dust affects climate. This discovery could aid in the fight against the powerful greenhouse gas.
Since it was installed in July onboard the International Space Station, NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) has found more than 50 methane “super-emitters” across Central Asia, the Middle East, and the southwestern United States.
Large landfills and widespread oil and gas complexes are two examples of newly measured methane hotspots, some of which were previously known and others that were recently discovered. Roughly 30% of the current global temperature rise is attributable to methane.
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NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated in a statement that “controlling methane emissions is crucial to preventing global warming,” and that the sensor will assist in “pinpointing” methane super-emitters so that such emissions can be controlled “at the source.” From its perch on the space station, which is 400 km (250 miles) above Earth, EMIT can scan broad swaths of the earth that are several kilometers across while simultaneously focusing in on places as tiny as a football field.
The imaging spectrometer was developed largely to determine the mineral makeup of dust carried into Earth’s atmosphere by winds from arid regions like deserts, but it has also proven to be effective at detecting significant methane emissions.
Methane is far more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Our new @NASAClimate EMIT mission, designed to measure atmospheric dust, has mapped more than 50 methane “super-emitters” around the planet: https://t.co/d4OhBwIeOQ pic.twitter.com/9QLxDMN0nW
— NASA (@NASA) October 25, 2022
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) research technician in charge of the methane studies, Andrew Thorpe, noted that some of the [methane] plumes EMIT discovered are among the largest ever seen — unlike anything that has ever been viewed from orbit.
Examples of the newly photographed methane super-emitters presented by JPL on Tuesday included a group of 12 plumes from Turkmenistan’s oil and gas infrastructure, some of which extended over 32 kilometers (20 miles).
The Aliso Canyon gas field rupture near Los Angeles in 2015, which ranks as one of the largest unintentional methane leaks in US history, is comparable to the peak flow of the Turkmenistan plumes, according to scientists, which is estimated to be 50,400kg (111,000 pounds) per hour.
A waste-processing facility in Iran and an oilfield in New Mexico were two further significant emitters, each of which released approximately 29,000kg (60,000 pounds) of methane per hour. The length of the methane plume south of Tehran, the capital of Iran, was at least 4.8 kilometers (miles).
On Tuesday, Oct. 25, at 3pm ET, @NASA will discuss the latest findings of the agency’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT), including a new, unanticipated capability which will help better understand the impacts of climate change. https://t.co/k8U7Eclz3s
— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) October 24, 2022
Both sites, according to JPL officials, were unknown to scientists before. EMIT’s main investigator at JPL, Robert Green, said in a statement: “As it continues to sweep the planet, EMIT will notice regions in which no one thought to search for greenhouse-gas emitters previously, and it will find plumes that no one expects.”
Methane, a byproduct of decomposing organic matter and the main component of natural gas utilized in power plants contribute just a small portion of all greenhouse gas emissions brought on by humans, but it has an 80 times greater heat-trapping capacity per unit of mass than carbon dioxide.
Methane remains in the atmosphere for approximately ten years, as opposed to hundreds of years for CO2, hence methane emission decreases have a more immediate impact on global warming.