West News Wire: More than 50 methane-emitting hotspots have been found worldwide by NASA scientists using a technique created to research how dust affects climate. This discovery could aid in the fight against the powerful greenhouse gas.

Since it was installed in July onboard the International Space Station, NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) has found more than 50 methane “super-emitters” across Central Asia, the Middle East, and the southwestern United States.

Large landfills and widespread oil and gas complexes are two examples of the newly measured methane hotspots, some of which were previously known and others which were recently discovered. Roughly 30% of the current global temperature rise is attributable to methane.

“Reining in methane emissions is key to limiting global warming,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement, adding that the instrument will help “pinpoint” methane super-emitters so that such emissions can be stopped “at the source”.

Circling Earth every 90 minutes from its perch onboard the space station some 400km (250 miles) high, EMIT is able to scan vast tracts of the planet dozens of kilometres across while also focusing in on areas as small as a football field.

The instrument, called an imaging spectrometer, was built primarily to identify the mineral composition of dust blown into Earth’s atmosphere from deserts and other arid regions, but it has proven adept at detecting large methane emissions.

“Some of the [methane] plumes EMIT detected are among the largest ever seen — unlike anything that has ever been observed from space,” said Andrew Thorpe, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) research technologist leading the methane studies.

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Examples of the newly-imaged methane super-emitters showcased by JPL on Tuesday included a cluster of 12 plumes from oil and gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan, some plumes stretching more than 32 km (20 miles).

Scientists estimate the Turkmenistan plumes collectively spew methane at a rate of 50,400kg (111,000 pounds) per hour, rivalling the peak flow from the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas field blowout near Los Angeles that ranks as one of the largest accidental methane releases in US history.

JPL officials said neither site were previously known to scientists.

“As it continues to survey the planet, EMIT will observe places in which no one thought to look for greenhouse-gas emitters before, and it will find plumes that no one expects,” Robert Green, EMIT’s principal investigator at JPL, said in a statement.

A by-product of decomposing organic material and the chief component of natural gas used in power plants, methane accounts for a fraction of all human-caused greenhouse emissions but has about 80 times more heat-trapping capacity pound-for-pound than carbon dioxide.

Compared with CO2, which lingers in the atmosphere for centuries, methane persists for only about a decade, meaning that reductions in methane emissions have a more immediate effect on planetary warming.


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