A powerful eye in the sky is helping scientists spy on the “super emitters” of methane, a greenhouse gas about 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
This observer is NASA’s Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation Tool, or EMIT for short. Done EMIT Mapping the chemical composition of dust Throughout the desert areas of the Earth since installed on the outer part of International Space Station (ISS) in July, to help researchers understand how airborne dust affects the climate.
This is the main objective of EMIT’s mission. NASA officials announced Tuesday (October 25) that it is making another, less predictable, contribution to climate studies. The tool identifies huge plumes of heat trapping methane Gas around the world – over 50 of them already, in fact.
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“Reducing methane emissions is the key to limiting Global Warming. This exciting new development will not only help researchers better determine the source of the methane leak, but will also provide insight into how to address it — quickly,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson He said in a statement (Opens in a new tab).
“More than twenty NASA satellites and instruments in space have long been invaluable to the International Space Station and NASA in determining changes in Earth’s climate,” Nelson added. “EMIT has proven to be an important tool in our toolbox for measuring this strength greenhouse gases And stop it at the source.
EMIT is an imaging spectrophotometer designed to identify the chemical fingerprints of a variety of minerals on the Earth’s surface. Being able to detect methane, too, is kind of a happy accident.
“It turns out that methane also has a spectral signature in the same wavelength range, and that’s what allowed us to be sensitive to methane,” said EMIT principal investigator Robert Greene, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. Tuesday afternoon press conference.
Green and other members of the EMIT team provided some examples of the tool’s sensitivity during Tuesday’s media call. For example, the instrument detected a column of methane – also known as natural gas – at least 3 miles (4.8 km) long in the sky above an Iranian landfill. This newly discovered super-emitter pumps about 18,700 pounds (8,500 kilograms) of methane into the air every hour, the researchers said.
That’s a lot, but it pales in comparison to the group of 12 ultra-high emitters monitored in Turkmenistan, all linked to oil and gas infrastructure. Some of these plumes are up to 20 miles (32 km) long, and together they add about 111,000 pounds (50,400 kg) of methane to Earth’s atmosphere per hour.
This is similar to the peak rates of the Aliso Canyon spill, one of the largest methane emissions in US history. (The Aliso Canyon event, which occurred at a methane storage facility in Southern California, was first observed in October 2015 and was not fully connected until February 2016).
EMIT detected all of these super-emitters very early on, during the instrument’s withdrawal phase. Team members said it should make greater contributions when it is fully operational, and as scientists gain more familiarity with the device’s capabilities.
“We’re really just scratching the surface of the greenhouse gas emissions potential from mapping greenhouse gases,” Andrew Thorpe, research technician at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said during a press conference Tuesday. “We are really excited about EMIT’s potential to reduce emissions from human activity by identifying these sources of emissions.”
Mike Wall is the author of “Abroad (Opens in a new tab)Book (Great Grand Publishing House, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book on the search for extraterrestrials. Follow him on Twitter Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab) or on Facebook (Opens in a new tab).