An orbital instrument of the NASA space agency identified in Central Asia, the Middle East, and the southwestern United States more than 50 facilities and equipment “super emitters” of methane gas that pollutes the atmosphere.
The Investigation of Mineral Dust Sources on the Earth’s Surface (EMIT) instrument was installed on the International Space Station in July.
“Controlling methane emissions is key to limiting global warming”NASA Director Bill Nelson said in a statement.
The agency explained that EMIT is developing a map of the prevalence of minerals in the planet’s deserts that raise dust into the atmosphere to deepen the knowledge of the effect that dust in the air has on the Earth’s climate.
Methane absorbs infrared light in a unique pattern, known as a “spectral fingerprint,” that EMIT’s imaging spectrometer can discern with great precision and can also measure the presence of carbon dioxide.
Methane emissions are a fraction compared to carbon dioxide and its contribution to atmospheric heat, but scientists estimate that it is 80 times more efficient at capturing heat in the atmosphere in the 20 years after emission.
Andrew Thorpe, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said that some of the methane clouds identified by EMIT “are among the largest ever seen, unmatched by anything seen from space.”
EMIT detected a cloud about 3.3 kilometers long southeast of Carlsbad, in the Permian Basin, one of the largest oil fields in the world stretching into parts of southeastern New Mexico and western Texas.
In Turkmenistan, the EMIT identified twelve clouds originating from oil and gas infrastructures east of the port city of Hazar, on the Caspian Sea. Stretched by the wind to the west, some of the clouds extend for more than 32 kilometers.
According to Nelson, this instrument has proven to be “a fundamental tool for measuring this gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect, and for containing it at its source”said the official.