In search of the invisible: how satellites detect methane emissions

When we think about the world of emissions and think about achieving emission control targets to slow down the rate of global warming, we don’t think about, or very likely fail to consider at a logical level, how those emissions are tracked or how we try to control them. . In this article, we will try to give a brief description of the detection method used in this field.
In ongoing efforts to monitor and mitigate climate change, researchers are increasingly improving their tools to detect emissions of greenhouse gases, including the powerful but often underestimated methane. One of the most revolutionary technologies in this area is the use of satellites to monitor methane emissions from onshore and offshore sources. But how does this technology work?

Methane and its impact on the environment
Methane (CH4), as we discussed in The Magical World of Emissions: Which Gases Affect Global Warming, is a greenhouse gas much more powerful than CO2 at storing heat in the atmosphere, although its presence in the atmosphere is much lower. general. The main sources of methane emissions are natural gas production, agriculture, wetlands and leaks in gas distribution systems. Its potential to contribute to global warming makes its accurate monitoring and reduction of emissions vital.

Companions: Eyes from Above
Satellites are now a fundamental tool in the study and monitoring of methane emissions. These upper eyes orbit the Earth, offering a global perspective that would be impossible to achieve through traditional methods. The key technology used for this purpose is known as infrared spectrometry.

Infrared spectrometry: satellites’ secret weapon
Infrared spectrometry is the main method by which satellites detect methane emissions. It works by observing sunlight reflected from the Earth through the atmosphere. When this light passes through a region of the atmosphere containing methane, some of the wavelengths are absorbed by the gas. These “absorption peaks” are like the chemical fingerprint of methane.
Space satellites can detect these absorption peaks using high-precision infrared spectrometers. They measure the amount of sunlight reflected and compare it to a reference light coming directly from the same probe. The differences between these two measurements provide detailed information about the amount and distribution of methane in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Applications and implications
The use of satellites to monitor methane emissions has a wide range of applications. This data is critical to identifying sources of emissions, assessing global trends, and detecting unreported natural gas leaks. Energy companies, government agencies and environmental activists use this data to make informed and responsible decisions.
Additionally, the ability to quickly detect methane leaks is critical to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global warming. Satellite measurements can enable timely action to correct leaks in natural gas infrastructure, thereby helping to mitigate environmental impacts.
In conclusion, space satellites have broken new ground in monitoring methane emissions by providing a global and detailed view of the sources of this potent greenhouse gas. This technology is critical in the fight against climate change, helping us better understand and address the environmental challenges of our time.

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Matteo Cocco, born in 1995, is a quality control inspector with experience in projects in the oil and gas industry and renewable energy sources.

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