NASA discovers more than 50 methane “super-emitter” zones around the world: ScienceAlert

NASA discovers more than 50 methane "super-emitter" zones around the world: ScienceAlert
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NASA scientists, with a Tool developed to study how dust affects climate, more than 50 locations around the world have identified large amounts of methane emissions, a trend that could help combat the potent greenhouse gas.

“Limiting methane emissions is key to limiting global warming,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a press release on Tuesday.

​“This exciting new development will not only help researchers better pinpoint where methane leaks are coming from, but also provide insight into how to address them quickly.”

NASA said its investigation of the mineral dust source on Earth’s surface (EMIT) is intended to advance the understanding of the effects of dust in the air on the climate.

But EMIT, which was installed on the International Space Station in July and can focus on areas as small as a soccer field, has also demonstrated the ability to detect the presence of methane.

Methane plume emits near Tehran, Iran.
A 4.8-kilometer methane plume south of Tehran, Iran. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA said more than 50 “super-emitters” of methane gas have been identified so far in Central Asia, the Middle East and the southwestern United States. Most of them are related to the fossil fuel, waste or agriculture sectors.

​Kate Calvin, Chief Scientist and Senior Climate Advisor at NASA, said EMIT’s “additional methane detection capability provides a remarkable opportunity to measure and monitor greenhouse gases that contribute to it climate change.”

“Exceeds our expectations”

Methane has so far been responsible for around 30 percent of global temperature rise.

Although it is far less common in the atmosphere than CO2, it is about 28 times more potent than a greenhouse gas on a century-long timescale. It is 80 times stronger over a 20-year period.

Methane stays in the atmosphere for only a decade, compared to hundreds or thousands of years for CO2.

This means that a sharp reduction in emissions could save projected global warming by tenths of a degree Celsius by mid-century, which would help keep alive the Paris Agreement target of raising the average temperature on earth to 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

​“EMIT may find hundreds of superemitters — some previously discovered by air, space, or ground-based measurements, others unknown,” NASA said.

Andrew Thorpe, a research technologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who leads the EMIT methane effort, said some of the methane plumes discovered by EMIT are among the largest ever seen.

“What we have found in just a short time is already exceeding our expectations,” said Thorpe said.

NASA said a methane plume about 3.3 kilometers long has been spotted southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the Permian Basin, one of the world’s largest oil fields.

In Turkmenistan, east of the Caspian Sea port of Hazar, 12 plumes of smoke from oil and gas infrastructure have been identified.

A methane plume at least 4.8 kilometers long has been detected south of Tehran from a large waste processing complex, NASA said.

© Agence France-Presse

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