Flaring, in which excess natural gas is intentionally burned into the air, is one of the ways methane is released from oil and gas facilities. NASA’s EMIT mission, in more than a year of operation, has demonstrated proficiency in detecting emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases from space.
Since its launch 16 months ago, the EMIT imaging spectrometer onboard the More than a year after first detecting methane plumes from its perch aboard the International Space Station (ISS), data from NASA’s EMIT instrument is now being used to identify point-source emissions of the gases. greenhouse with a proficiency that surprised even its designers.
EMIT Mission and Capabilities
Short for Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation, EMIT was launched in July 2022 to map 10 important surface minerals in the world’s arid regions. These mineral-related observations, which are now available to researchers and the public, will help improve understanding of how dust released into the atmosphere affects climate.
Methane detection was not part of EMIT’s primary mission, but the instrument’s designers hoped the imaging spectrometer would have this capability. Now, with more than 750 sources of emissions identified since August 2022 – some small, others in remote locations and others persistent over time – the instrument has more than produced results in this regard, according to a new study published in the journal
EMIT identified a cluster of 12 methane plumes over a 150-square-mile (400-square-kilometer) area of southern Uzbekistan on Sept. 1, 2022. The instrument captured the cluster in a single photo, called a scene by researchers. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Methane Emissions and Climate Change
“At first we were a little cautious about what we could do with the instrument,” said Andrew Thorpe, research technologist on the EMIT science team in
When strong winds on one continent stir up dust from mineral rocks (such as calcite or chlorite), the airborne particles can travel thousands of kilometers to affect completely different continents. Dust suspended in the air can heat or cool the Earth’s atmosphere and surface. This warming or cooling effect is the focus of NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) mission. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
EMIT has proven effective in detecting emission sources both large (tens of thousands of pounds of methane per hour) and surprisingly small (up to hundreds of pounds of methane per hour). This is important because it allows the identification of a greater number of “super emitters” – sources that produce disproportionate shares of total emissions.
The new study documents how EMIT, based on the first 30 days of greenhouse gas detection, can observe 60% to 85% of the methane plumes typically observed in aerial campaigns.
In a remote corner of southeastern Libya, EMIT on September 3, 2022, detected a methane cloud emitting about 979 pounds (444 kilograms) per hour. It is one of the smallest sources detected so far by the instrument. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Comparison with aerial detection
At several thousand feet above the ground, methane-detecting instruments on aircraft are more sensitive, but to warrant sending a plane, investigators need an advance indication that they will detect methane. Many areas are not examined because they are considered too remote, too risky or too expensive. Furthermore, the campaigns that take place cover relatively limited areas for short periods.
On the other hand, at around 400 kilometers above sea level on the space station, EMIT collects data on a large part of the planet – specifically the arid regions that lie between 51.6 degrees north and south latitude. The imaging spectrometer captures images of 80 kilometers by 80 kilometers (50 miles by 50 miles) of the surface – researchers call them “scenes” – including many regions that have been out of reach of airborne instruments.
“The number and scale of methane plumes measured by EMIT across our planet are staggering,” said Robert O. Green, a
This time-lapse video shows the International Space Station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm maneuvering NASA’s EMIT mission to the outside of the station. Extraction of
Furthermore, the instrument detected much smaller plumes than expected. Captured in a remote corner of southeastern Libya on September 3, 2022, one of the smallest sources so far emitted 979 pounds (444 kilograms) per hour, based on estimates of local wind speeds.
Reference: “Attribution of Individual Methane and Carbon Dioxide Emission Sources Using EMIT Observations from Space” by Andrew K. Thorpe, Robert O. Green, David R. Thompson, Philip G. Brodrick, John W. Chapman, Clayton D. Elder, Itziar Irakulis-Loitxate, Daniel H. Cusworth, Alana K. Ayasse, Riley M. Duren, Christian Frankenberg, Luis Guanter, John R. Worden, Philip E. Dennison, Dar A. Roberts, K. Dana Chadwick, Michael L .Eastwood, Jay E. Fahlen, and Charles E. Miller, November 17, 2023, Science Advances. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adh2391
More about the EMIT mission
EMIT was selected from the Earth Venture Instrument-4 solicitation of the NASA Science Mission Directorate’s Earth Sciences Division and was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is managed for the agency by Caltech in Pasadena, California. Instrument data is available at the NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center for use by other researchers and the public.