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New NASA instrument detects methane ‘super emitters’ from space

The Earth’s Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) identified more than 50 methane hotspots around the world.

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

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

Newly measured methane hotspots, some previously known and some newly discovered, include expanding oil and gas facilities and large landfills. Methane is responsible for about 30 percent of the global rise in temperatures to date.

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“Controlling methane emissions is key to limiting global warming,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement, adding that the instrument will help “identify” super methane emitters so such emissions can be stopped. “at the source”.

Revolving around the Earth every 90 minutes from its position aboard the space station some 400 km (250 miles) high, EMIT is capable of scanning vast expanses of the planet tens of kilometers wide while also 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 that reaches Earth’s atmosphere from deserts and other arid regions, but has proven effective in detecting large emissions of methane.

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

Examples of methane super-emitters just captured by JPL on Tuesday included a group of 12 plumes from oil and gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan, some plumes extending more than 32 km (20 miles).

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

Two other big 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 survey the planet, EMIT will look at places no one thought to look for greenhouse gas emitters before, and find plumes no one expected,” Robert Green, EMIT principal investigator at JPL, said in a statement. statement.

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

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

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