NASA’s EMIT imaging spectrometer, which is stationed on the International Space Station (ISS), has exceeded expectations in its ability to detect methane emissions. Originally launched in July 2022 to study minerals in arid regions, EMIT has proven effective in identifying point-source emissions of greenhouse gases.
Over the past 16 months, the instrument has identified more than 750 methane emission sources, some of which are small, remote, or persistent over time. This is a significant development in the fight against climate change, as methane is known to be up to 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its heat-trapping abilities.
One of the key advantages of EMIT is its ability to detect both large and small sources of methane emissions, including the identification of “super-emitters” that contribute disproportionately to overall emissions. The instrument can observe 60% to 85% of methane plumes typically seen during airborne campaigns. This not only provides more comprehensive data but also offers a more cost-effective approach to monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.
Compared to methane-detecting instruments on aircraft, EMIT has the advantage of collecting data over a larger area from the ISS. It can capture regions that were previously beyond the reach of airborne instruments, providing valuable information on methane emissions in understudied areas.
The EMIT science team compiles maps of methane plumes detected by the instrument and releases them on a dedicated website. This data is made available to the public, scientists, and organizations for source identification and further studies. Since August 2022, EMIT has documented over 50,000 scenes and detected methane plumes in various regions, including a rarely studied area in southern Uzbekistan.
EMIT has also uncovered smaller-than-expected methane sources, such as one emitting 979 pounds per hour in a remote corner of southeastern Libya. These findings highlight the importance of using advanced technology like EMIT to pinpoint and monitor all sources of methane emissions accurately.
EMIT was selected from the Earth Venture Instrument-4 solicitation under NASA’s Science Mission Directorate and was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Researchers and the public can access the instrument’s data through the NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center for further analysis and research.
This breakthrough in methane detection capabilities by EMIT on the ISS represents a significant advancement in our ability to monitor and understand greenhouse gas emissions. It provides critical information that can be used to develop targeted strategies for combating climate change and reducing the impact of these emissions on the planet.
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