Southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico, the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation mission of NASA captured this image of a methane plume stretching for 2 miles (3 kilometers). Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, hundreds of times more so than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
The NASA/JPL-Caltech Space Telescope Collaboration
The Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation was developed to aid in the study of dust’s impact on the climate by isolating the locations of its emissions.
Using its imaging spectrometer, EMIT can accurately and precisely identify the distinct pattern of infrared light absorption characteristic of methane. The gas carbon dioxide can also be measured by the device.
The space station’s orbit allows for a wide field of view, and EMIT can scan swaths of Earth’s surface dozens of miles wide while resolving areas as small as a soccer field, both of which contribute to the new observations.
Mission manager David Thompson, a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, remarked, “These results are exceptional, and they demonstrate the value of pairing global-scale perspective with the resolution required to identify methane point sources, down to the facility scale.” EMIT is a spacecraft that measures methane emissions from a variety of sources across the globe. It’s a one-of-a-kind ability that will propel efforts to pinpoint the origins of manmade methane emissions.
Although methane contributes only a small percentage to man-made greenhouse gas emissions, it is thought to be 80 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere for 20 years after its release. More importantly, methane only stays in the atmosphere for about a decade, while carbon dioxide stays there for centuries; this means that if emissions are cut, the atmosphere will respond in a similar timeframe, resulting in slower near-term warming.
To better understand the impacts of airborne dust on climate, NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) mission is creating a map of the prevalence of key minerals in the world’s dust-producing deserts. The presence of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, can be detected, however, and this is an additional significant capability that EMIT has shown it can perform.
Since EMIT’s installation on the International Space Station in July, the science team has used the collected data to identify more than 50 “super-emitters” in Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Southwestern United States. Super-emitters are large-scale sources of methane emissions, such as those found in fossil fuel, waste management, and agricultural industries.
Stopping the release of methane is essential if we want to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. “This exciting new development will not only help researchers better pinpoint where methane leaks are coming from, but it will also provide insight into how they can be addressed – quickly,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
Since their launch, the International Space Station and NASA’s fleet of satellites and space-based instruments have proven indispensable for monitoring climate change on Earth. For accurate measurements of this powerful greenhouse gas and its elimination at its point of production, EMIT is proving to be an indispensable tool.
NASA Instrument Detects Dozens Of Methane
Tinseltown, October 25 (Reuters) – A NASA satellite instrument initially developed to better understand how atmospheric dust contributes to climate change has also proven effective at detecting massive global emissions of methane.
NASA announced on Tuesday that a device called an imaging spectrometer installed in July on the International Space Station had identified more than 50 methane “super-emitters” in Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Southwestern United States.
In order to learn whether airborne dust in various parts of the world is likely to trap or deflect heat from the sun, scientists are using data from NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Investigation, or EMIT.
Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in the Los Angeles area say that methane absorbs infrared light in a distinctive pattern that can be easily detected by EMIT’s spectrometer.
Methane, a byproduct of decomposing organic matter and the primary component of natural gas used in power plants contributes to only a small percentage of human-caused greenhouse emissions but has about 80 times the heat-trapping capacity per unit mass of carbon dioxide.
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Since methane has a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere (about a decade) than carbon dioxide (which can remain for centuries), reducing methane emissions has a more immediate effect on global warming.
On Tuesday, JPL presented new images of methane super-emitters, such as a cluster of 12 plumes from oil and gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan, some of which extend more than 20 miles (32 km).
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Roughly 30% of the current global temperature rise can be attributed to methane.
As a greenhouse gas, it is about 28 times more powerful over a century despite being about a thousand times less abundant in the atmosphere than CO2. It’s 80 times more effective over 20 years.
Unlike CO2, which can stay in the air for hundreds of years, methane’s atmospheric lifetime is only a decade.
UN Environment Programme projections show that a drastic cut in emissions could reduce global warming by several tenths of a degree Celsius by mid-century, keeping alive the Paris Agreement goal of capping Earth’s average temperature increase to 1.5C. (UNEP).
NASA predicts that EMIT will discover “hundreds of super-emitters,” some of which have been discovered through air, space, or ground-based measurement and others that have remained hidden until now.
Research Technologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory leading the EMIT methane effort, Andrew Thorpe, has stated that some of the methane plumes detected by EMIT are among the largest ever seen.
What we have found in such a short amount of time is remarkable, and it far surpasses our expectations,” Thorpe said.
A methane plume measuring approximately two miles (3.3 kilometers) in length was detected by NASA southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the Permian Basin, one of the largest oilfields in the United States.
Rather than escaping into the air or being released as waste, methane from landfills can be tapped, captured, and used as a relatively clean energy source for producing electricity or heat.
Benefits to the environment include a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from landfills and the avoidance of their replacement by coal, oil, or natural gas.
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