Canadian company starts mapping of methane emission

Kristina Flexman writes about how one start-up's efforts could help in identifying the roots of climate change through the globe

Kristina Flexman
10th February 2020
Since the 1980s, humanity’s understanding of climate change has only grown. There is unequivocal evidence showing drastic global temperature rise, and most people would argue that human’s carbon dioxide emissions have been the cause.

Whilst increasing carbon dioxide levels correlate perfectly with the observed increase in global temperature, it is not the only greenhouse gas we should be worried about.

Methane, a gas produced by livestock farming, landfill sites, fossil fuel production, and various other natural and human sources, has a significantly greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide. It has a much shorter atmospheric lifespan relative to carbon dioxide (one decade compared to ten decades), and consequently is overlooked by many when considering the causes of climate change. However, for the short time it is in the atmosphere, methane is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide (IPCC).

GHGSat, a Canadian start-up, claims to have the world's first and only high-resolution satellite monitoring greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sites around the world. They have been producing high quality maps since 2016 and aim to release a map of the entire Earth’s surface by the end of 2020, showing high resolution at 2km2 per pixel.

With the map unveiling set for COP26 in November 2020, the map will help NGOs, policy-makers, and all stakeholders to identify methane hotspots and hone in on problematic methane sources. It will highlight farms, oil and gas rigs, and peatland mis-use, which will help identify mismanagement, leaks, and unidentified sources. As it stands, there is a lack of data completely explaining the sources of methane, so hopefully the pioneering work of GHGSat can help to fill this knowledge gap. It will also enable reliable quantification of the environmental impacts of big firms or entire countries.

The company shows huge potential for advanced remote sensing and aerospace technology, and soon they will be deploying a satellite able to capture detail at 25m2 per pixel. They can monitor various polluting gases even at trace scales using advanced spectroscopy, and combining satellite imagery with aircraft measurements, they are able to detect ~90% of methane leaks from shale gas operations. GHGSat claims that no other company can combine this data in the same single, cost-effective way.

The map will mark significant progress in the monitoring of greenhouse gases, enabling better understanding of how humans are causing, and combatting, global warming.

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