MethaneSAT can identify methane emitters

Methane is the second largest contributor to global warming, after carbon dioxide. MethaneSAT will identify how much methane is coming from where, who’s responsible, and are those emissions going up or down over time.

MethaneSAT — a satellite which will track and measure methane emissions at a global scale — was launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon9 rocket from California.

While the washing-machine-sized satellite is not the first spacecraft to identify and quantify methane emissions, it will provide more details and have a much wider field of view than any of its predecessors.

Methane is an invisible but strong greenhouse gas, and the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide, responsible for 30 per cent of global heating since the Industrial Revolution. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, over a period of 20 years, methane is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide.

The gas also contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone — a colourless and highly irritating gas that forms just above the Earth’s surface. According to a 2022 report, exposure to ground-level ozone could be contributing to one million premature deaths every year.

Therefore, it is crucial to cut methane emissions. And the main culprit: fossil fuel operations, which account for about 40 per cent of all human-caused methane emissions. The objective of MethaneSAT is to help achieve this goal.

The entity behind MethaneSAT is the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) — a US-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group. To develop the satellite, EDF partnered with Harvard University, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and the New Zealand Space Agency.

Essentially, MethaneSAT will orbit the Earth 15 times a day, monitoring the oil and gas sector. It will create a large amount of data, which will tell “how much methane is coming from where, who’s responsible, and are those emissions going up or down over time”, according to a statement by EDF.

The data collected by MethaneSAT will be made public for free in near real-time. This will allow stakeholders and regulators to take action to reduce methane emissions.

Historically, tracking the source of methane emissions and measuring them has been quite challenging.

While some satellites can provide high-resolution data, they can only scan specific, pre-targeted sites. Others can examine larger areas and detect large emitting events, but cannot scan “smaller sources that account for the majority of emissions in many, if not most, regions,” the EDF statement added.

Due to this discrepancy, according to an International Energy Agency (IEA) report, global methane emissions are about 70 per cent higher than levels reported by national governments.

MethaneSAT is expected to fix the issue. Equipped with a high-resolution infrared sensor and a spectrometer, the satellite will fill critical data gaps. It can track differences in methane concentrations as small as three parts per billion in the atmosphere, which enables it to pick up smaller emissions sources than the previous satellites. MethaneSAT also has a wide-camera view — of about 200 km by 200 km — allowing it to identify larger emitters so-called “super emitters”.

Tags: Falcon9, Greenhousegas, Methane Emitters, MthaneSAT
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