Explained: What is the significance of 50 methane “super-emitters” discovered by Nasa probe

Updated on Oct 27, 2022 05:41 PM IST

Methane remains in the atmosphere for approximately ten years, as opposed to hundreds of years for CO2, hence methane emission curbs have a more immediate impact on global warming.

EMIT was developed mainly to determine the mineral makeup of dust carried into Earth’s atmosphere by winds from arid regions like deserts(videograb/ Nasa)
EMIT was developed mainly to determine the mineral makeup of dust carried into Earth’s atmosphere by winds from arid regions like deserts(videograb/ Nasa)
By | Edited by Aryan Prakash

Nasa’s scientists have discovered over 50 methane-emitting hotspots around the globe using a technique developed to research how dust affects climate. This finding could aid in the fight against the potent greenhouse gas as “with knowledge of the locations of big emitters, operators of facilities, equipment, and infrastructure giving off the gas can quickly act to limit emissions,” the US space agency said in a statement.

According to data gathered by NASA's Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT), which was installed on the International Space Station in July, the science team has found more than 50 "super-emitters" across Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Southwestern United States.

What is Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation?

From its perch on the space station, which is 400 km above Earth, EMIT can scan broad swaths of the earth that are several kilometres across while simultaneously focusing in on places as tiny as a football field, Nasa informs.

The imaging spectrometer was developed mainly to determine the mineral makeup of dust carried into Earth’s atmosphere by winds from arid regions like deserts, but it has also proven to be effective at detecting significant methane emissions, the US space agency adds.

Which places are identified as super-emitters?

Nasa says super-emitters are facilities, equipment, and other infrastructure, typically in the fossil-fuel, waste, or agriculture sectors, that emit methane at high rates.

Examples of the recently captured methane super-emitters were exhibited by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on Tuesday, including a collection of 12 plumes from Turkmenistan's oil and gas infrastructure, some of which reached lengths of 32 kilometres.

Scientists estimate the Turkmenistan plumes collectively emit methane at a rate of 50,400kg per hour, matching the peak flow from the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas field rupture near Los Angeles, which ranks as one of the greatest accidental methane leaks in US history.

A waste-processing facility in Iran and an oilfield in New Mexico were two further significant emitters, each of which released approximately 29,000kg of methane per hour. The length of the methane plume south of the Iranian capital city Tehran was at least 4.8 kilometres.

Some of the methane plumes that EMIT discovered are among the largest ever seen from space or previously known to scientists. Researchers hope that more such hotspots will be discovered in coming times.

“As it continues to survey the planet, EMIT will observe places in which no one thought to look for greenhouse-gas emitters before, and it will find plumes that no one expects,” said Robert Green, EMIT’s principal investigator at JPL.

Why is a reduction in methane emission significant?

Methane, a by-product of decomposing organic matter and the main component of natural gas utilised in power plants, contributes just a small portion of all greenhouse gas emissions brought on by humans, but it has an 80 times greater heat-trapping capacity per unit of mass than carbon dioxide.

Methane remains in the atmosphere for approximately ten years, as opposed to hundreds of years for CO2, hence methane emission curbs have a more immediate impact on global warming.

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