how space technology is going to be key to combating emissions

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It is not as well known and we do not put it under the microscope as often as carbon dioxide (C02), but methane (CH4) is one of those “enemies” in the form of gas that —with the help of man— threaten to change the climate irreversibly. It is so relevant that the report of the Intergovernmental Panel of Experts on Climate Change (IPCC) blames him between 30 and 50% of the increase of temperatures and the US and the EU itself have set themselves the goal of in 2030 there will be 30% fewer emissions than at the beginning of this decade. The challenge is not easy, but we have a valuable (and unexpected) ally on our side: the satellites.

Although we are more or less clear about what the main sources of methane emissions are —yes, the thing about flatulence in cows is true; Although they are far from the only source, it is not easy for experts to locate leaks exactly. And that is a serious problem.

As Riley Duren commentsfrom Carbon Mapperto Guardian, today the majority of methane emissions generated by humanity, which account for about a quarter of global warming, remain “invisible”. The official data is also not entirely reliable. An analysis of the International Energy Agency (IEA) recently concluded that the gases generated by the energy sector are approximately 70% higher those declared by the governments themselves. If we take into account that the group represents more or less 40% of all human methane emissions and that they grew almost 5% in 2021, the gap is serious.

“See” the problem to tackle it

Monitoring needs to be improved. And this is where the role of satellites is crucial. The IEA itself recognizes that have “considerably increased” our knowledge of emission sources on an international scale and its Global Tracker uses, among other data, that collected by the probes. A few weeks ago a team of researchers detailed in Science how between 2019 and 2020 he had detected thanks to the TROPOMI satellite platform “Hundreds” of large releases of methane, especially in facilities dedicated to the production and delivery of oil and gas.

TROPOMI travels aboard the satellite Sentinel-5 Precursor (S5P)launched in 2017, and allows experts identify methane plumes; but his information is not enough. The IEA warns that the information provided by the probes that are currently active “is still far from complete” and warns of its limitations: “Current satellites do not provide measurements on the equatorial regions, operations on the high seas or areas of northern , as the main oil and gas producing regions of Russia”, warns the body.

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According to calculations broken down by Riley Duren in Guardian, the constellation of satellites in orbit around the planet can only identify about 10% of methane emissions related to oil and gas. The vast remaining 90% remain below the reach of their instruments. To partially alleviate this handicap, satellite launches with higher resolution are already planned. Throughout next year, for example, those of MethanetSATfrom Environmental Defense Fund (EDF); and the first two probes of the organization Carbon Mapperwhich plans to strengthen its own “constellation” over the next few years.

The new satellites will enable scientists to pinpoint methane leaks with greater precision than TROPOMI, locate sources, specify its scope in the regions of the planet that are now more difficult to access and reinforce the frequent monitoring of emissions, both CH4 and CO2. Greater control will encourage governments to require companies to become responsible for their pollution levels. His work will be completed with another, just as important, carried out from the ground with cameras and sensor measurements from aircraft.

“Satellites have an important role to play, but the expansion of ground-based observations will be just as important. There is no magic wand in terms of methane observing infrastructure – a variety of approaches are needed,” says Ann Stavert of Global Carbon Project, to the British newspaper. Sensor networks are in fact an ally when you want to detect smaller emissions and on a local scale.

“Uncertainty about emission levels is no reason to delay action about methane. Significant reductions can be achieved with known technologies and proven policies that have been shown to work effectively,” warns the IEA, which recalls that although CH4 dissipates faster than C02, during its short life it acts as a more powerful greenhouse gas. Reduce your emissions by 2030, as more than a hundred countries have proposed at Cop26, is key to limiting global warming in the short term.

Cover image | Dominik Vanyi (Unsplash)

It is not as well known and we do not put it under the microscope as often as carbon dioxide…

It is not as well known and we do not put it under the microscope as often as carbon dioxide…

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