NASA Maps 50 Methane ‘Super Emitters’ Using ISS Dust Sensor • The Register
Instruments installed on the International Space Station to examine Earth’s atmospheric dust are turning out to have another useful purpose: detecting methane plumes in the air that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
NASA’s Earth’s Surface Source of Mineral Dust Research (EMIT … seriously?) was installed on the ISS in July to measure mineral dust in Earth’s atmosphere. US astronauts have discovered that the equipment can also track methane emissions and has since been able to identify 50″ super radiators“, mostly operations in the fossil fuel, waste and agricultural sectors that emit high levels of methane, around the world.
“It turns out that methane also has a spectral signature in the same wavelength range [of the instrument]and that has allowed us to be sensitive to methane,” EMIT lead researcher Robert Green, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) said at a press conference this week.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that can trap up to 80 times the heat of the other greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, according to NASA. However, unlike carbon dioxide, which can potentially remain in the atmosphere for decades to hundreds of years, methane disappears in about a decade, so cutting emissions now could go a long way in mitigating climate change in the short term.
“Reducing methane emissions is key to limiting global warming,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “EMIT is proving to be a critical tool in our toolbox for measuring this potent greenhouse gas – and stopping it at its source.”
EMIT uses an imaging spectrometer, which measures changes in light reflections to determine the molecular content of the atmosphere. Similar equipment has been used in other NASA missions, including the James Webb Space Telescope, which is equipped with a spectrograph strong enough to detect carbon dioxide on an exoplanet.
Aimed at Earth, a spectrograph like EMIT can do many things, such as: study dust plumes, which NASA said also have the ability to cool or heat the planet. EMIT focuses on figuring out which dusty parts of the Earth are rich in iron particles or clay dust, which tend to trap and repel heat, respectively. With that knowledge, NASA hopes to learn more about the effect of dust on climate change.
Methane plumes near Tehran, Iran
Andrew Thorpe, a NASA research technologist at JPL who leads the EMIT methane project, said the methane plumes EMIT detected are among the largest ever seen. “What we have found in a short time exceeds all our expectations,” said Thorpe.
NASA has provided a few examples of the massive clouds it has detected, such as 12 methane plumes in Turkmenistan stretching more than 20 miles (32 kilometers). Another plume at a waste disposal facility south of Tehran, Iran, emits a plume three miles long.
In the US, a two-mile plume has been observed near Carlsbad, New Mexico, on the edge of the Permian Basin oil field. Combined, the outporings from the three sites emit about 77 tons of methane per hour. The International Energy Agency estimates the energy sector alone emits approximately 135 million tons of methane annually.
In January, the Biden administration announced that the Action Plan to Reduce Methane Emissions in the USwhich one would provide money to cap old wells, along with help minimize pipe leakage, reduce beef and dairy cow emissions, improve emissions monitoring, and repurpose old fossil fuel infrastructure for new uses.
The US government said the action plan aims to reduce global methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030, not enough to meet the reduction needs of recent emissions projections.
Nelson said the agency wants to help stop methane emissions at their sources, but NASA has not named a single group that may have been responsible for the massive plumes, not even in New Mexico, where the US government can intervene. ®
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