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How satellites may hold the key to the methane crisis



Last month, scientists working with data from Tropomi, a monitoring instrument onboard the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite, published some startling findings. Writing in the journal Science, the team reported that it had found about 1,800 instances of huge releases of methane (more than 25 tonnes an hour) into the atmosphere in 2019 and 2020.


Two-thirds of these were from oil and gas facilities, with the leaks concentrated over the largest oil and gas basins across the world, as well as major transmission pipelines, the team said.


Launched in 2017, Tropomi has been a huge step forward for scientists researching methane, being the first instrument in space that can see plumes of methane emissions directly, says Lena Höglund-Isaksson, a methane researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis . For example, the instrument led to the discovery of huge methane leaks in Turkmenistan that researchers were not aware of before, she says.


But these emissions are only the tip of the methane iceberg. “The current constellation of satellites in orbit around the planet today can see about 10% of the methane emissions of oil and gas on the planet,” says Riley Duren, chief executive of Carbon Mapper and a researcher at Arizona University, who co-wrote the paper. “The remaining 90% of these oil and gas methane emissions are below the detection limit of that satellite, but they won’t stay undetected for long.”



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