An instrument developed by NASA has spotted over 50 places on Earth that are emitting huge levels of methane, among them newly discovered places.
NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Investigation EMIT is an imaging spectrometer that was designed to help scientists determine whether dust is likely to trap or deflect heat from the sun, thus contributing to climate change.
Installed aboard the International Space Station in July, EMIT has identified more than 50 methane “super-emitters” in Central Asia, the Middle East and the U.S. Southwestern. Methane hotspots include sprawling oil and gas facilities and large landfills.
“It turns out that methane also has a spectral signature in the same wavelength range, and that’s what has allowed us to be sensitive to methane,” said EMIT investigator Robert Green, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
NASA said a methane plume about two miles long was detected southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico, in the Permian Basin, one of the largest oilfields in the world. Another 12 plumes from oil and gas infrastructure, some stretching over 20 miles, were identified in Turkmenistan.
Methane is one of all human-caused greenhouse emissions but has about 80 more heat-trapping capacity pound-for-pound than carbon dioxide.
Compared with CO2, which lingers in the atmosphere for centuries, methane persists for only about a decade, meaning its reduction can have a more immediate impact on the planet’s warming.
According to NASA, EMIT could potentially find hundreds of methane super-emitters before the end of its yearlong mission.