NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT), a tool used to examine how dust impacts climate, discovered methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
EMIT can scan large areas of the Earth dozens of kilometers across while also concentrating on areas as small as a football field as it rounds the Earth every 90 minutes from its perch 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the ground.
NASA has found more than 50 “super-emitters” across Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Southwestern United States using data acquired by EMIT since its installation on the International Space Station in July.
Super-emitters are facilities, equipment, and other infrastructure that emit large amounts of methane, generally in the fossil fuel, waste, or agriculture sectors.
“Reining in methane emissions is key to limiting global warming. This exciting new development will not only help researchers better pinpoint where methane leaks are coming from, but also provide insight on how they can be addressed — quickly,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
The imaging spectrometer was designed primarily to analyze the mineral composition of dust blown into the Earth’s atmosphere from deserts and other arid places, but it has shown to be capable of detecting large methane emissions as well.
The more than two dozen satellites and experiments in space operated by the International Space Station and NASA have long proved important in determining changes in the Earth’s climate. EMIT is proven to be a vital tool in our bag of tricks for measuring and reducing this strong greenhouse gas at its source.
“These results are exceptional, and they demonstrate the value of pairing global-scale perspective with the resolution required to identify methane point sources, down to the facility scale,” said David Thompson, EMIT’s instrument scientist and a senior research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
“It’s a unique capability that will raise the bar on efforts to attribute methane sources and mitigate emissions from human activities.”