HomeScience & TechnologyNew NASA Instrument Detects Methane 'Super-Emitters' from Space

New NASA Instrument Detects Methane ‘Super-Emitters’ from Space

- Advertisement -
  • The Earth’s Surface Mineral Dust Sources (EMIT) Investigation identified more than 50 methane hot spots worldwide.
New NASA Instrument Detects Methane 'Super-Emitters' from Space
New NASA Instrument Detects Methane ‘Super-Emitters’ from Space (Google Earth/Maxar/NASA/JPL-Caltech/via Reuters)

NASA scientists, using a tool designed to study how dust affects climate, have identified more than 50 methane-emitting hot spots around the world, a development that could help combat the potent greenhouse gas.

NASA said Tuesday that its Earth Surface Mineral Dust Sources (EMIT) Investigation had identified more than 50 methane “super-emitters” in Central Asia, the Middle East, and the southwestern United States since it was installed aboard the International Space Station in July.

Newly measured methane hot spots, some previously known and others newly discovered, include extensive oil and gas facilities and large landfills. Methane is responsible for about 30 percent of the global temperature rise to date.

- Advertisement -

Circling Earth every 90 minutes from its position aboard the space station about 400 km (250 miles) high, EMIT can scan vast expanses of the planet dozens of kilometers in diameter while focusing on areas as small as a football field.

The instrument, called an imaging spectrometer, was built primarily to identify the mineral composition of dust blown into Earth’s atmosphere from deserts and other arid regions but has proven adept at detecting large methane emissions.

“Some of the [methane] plumes detected by EMIT is among the largest ever seen, unlike anything ever observed from space,” said Andrew Thorpe, a research technologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) who is leading the methane studies.

Examples of the newly imaged methane super-emitters exhibited by JPL on Tuesday included a cluster of 12 plumes of oil and gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan, some plumes stretching more than 32 km (20 miles).

Scientists estimate that Turkmenistan’s plumes collectively spew methane at a rate of 50,400 kg (111,000 pounds) per hour, rivaling the peak flow of the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas field explosion near Los Angeles that ranks as one of the largest accidental methane releases in U.S. history.

Two other major emitters were an oil field in New Mexico and a waste processing complex in Iran, which emitted nearly 60,000 pounds (29,000 kg) of methane per hour combined. The methane plume south of the Iranian capital, Tehran, was at least 4.8 km (3 miles) long.

JPL officials said neither site was previously known to scientists.

“As it continues to study the planet, EMIT will look at places where no one thought to look for greenhouse gas emitters before, and find plumes that no one expects,” Robert Green, EMIT principal investigator at JPL, said in a statement.

A byproduct of the breakdown of organic material and the main component of natural gas used in power plants, methane accounts for a fraction of all human-caused greenhouse emissions but has about 80 times more capacity to trap heat pound-for-pound than carbon dioxide.

Compared to CO2, which remains in the atmosphere for centuries, methane persists only for a decade, meaning reductions in methane emissions have a more immediate effect on global warming.


Stay Tuned with Us:



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments