The massive Aliso Canyon methane gas leak that took place in Los Angeles last year was identified by the Hyperion spectrometer, a device carried by NASA’s Earth Observing-1 satellite. The instrument measured the infrared signature of the potent greenhouse gas three times, and the National Space Agency confirmed the observations’ accuracy three separate times.
Another research published in ScienceMag revealed that the leak poured 97,100 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere between October 2015 and February. That means that the hole was so massive it could have been produced by the yearly greenhouse gas emissions from 572,000 cars.
The leak from the Southern California Gas Company gas fields served to carry out an urgent investigation into effective methods for identifying such gas leaks from space. The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
This is the first time NASA scientists can detect and isolate the leak from space based on a single-source emission of methane. The study was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letter’s, which is led by David Thomson and a research team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam in Germany and NASA’s goddam space flight center.
“Every gas leaves its fingerprint on the light that passes through it,” said David Thomson, as quoted by the Washington Post. “So what the algorithms we applied do is they examine the imagery from the spacecraft to see the very unique spectral signature of methane, and then map it over wide locations”.
The technique used by the research team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory allowed scientists for the first time to see the methane plume from space, according to Thomson. The findings are so rare because the Hyperion spectrometer was not specifically designed to detect methane. He explained that the optical instrument identified gasses by scanning in “many hundreds of wavelengths.”
Additionally, the researchers noted that Hyperion was able to detect the massive methane leak despite the fact that the spacecraft that carries it is not working properly because it has been drifting in its orbit for some time and has run out of fuel.
He said this achievement might enable him and his colleagues to use other instruments that focus on the powerful greenhouse gas to do similar things on a wider scale, as reported by the Washington Post. Further research by using simpler methane measurements could also be much more accurate.
Compared to carbon dioxide, methane stays far shorter in the atmosphere. However, it causes much more warming than an equivalent amount of CO2 during the brief period it lasts, which means that great releases can have significant consequences.
Pollution observation from space increases
Another satellite-based study published in May in the journal Nature Geoscience revealed nearly 40 new, primary sources of sulfur dioxide emissions. This pollutant can cause multiple health and harmful environmental effects and even trigger changes in climate by reducing global warming effects for a period of time.
Sulfur dioxide pollution can come from natural and industrial sources such as volcanoes, the burning of fossil fuels and oil refineries. It only lasts up to a few days in the atmosphere, but monitoring its presence can help scientists be aware of climate models and air quality to create policies on reducing pollution.
Researchers believe that improving methane leak observations will help more accurately calculate how much countries are contributing to the atmospheric greenhouse gas burden and also keep track of methane and other gasses that hit the hardest.
Source: Washington Post