NASA detects super-emitters of methane on Earth from space

NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT) mission detected many super-emitters of methane across the world. The mission is aimed at mapping the presence of many key elements in the dust-producing deserts across the globe. Through this mapping, NASA is trying to determine the dust’s impact on the planet’s climate. But as per NASA, the mission showcased another important capability of mapping the methane emission. This is a phenomenal technology from NASA as methane is the most potent greenhouse gas, responsible for increasing the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere.  Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation or EMIT was installed at the International Space Station in July. Since its installation, EMIT has collected a large amount of data regarding its objectives. But the data also showcased the super-emitters of methane across the world. According to NASA, the data showed more than 50 super-emitters of methane in Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Southwestern United States. NASA has defined the term super-emitters as the factories, industries, and related infrastructure that emit high levels of methane. Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA stated that limiting methane emissions is an important step in restricting global warming and this new technology will help the researchers in accurately targeting such super-emitters of methane. He further continued that NASA and the International Space Station are working in collaboration to actively map the changes in the atmosphere and EMIT will help in mapping the concentrations of greenhouse gasses.  Methane is the primary component of natural gas. Naturally, animals are the biggest contributors to the emission of methane. But artificially, methane is emitted from many industries such as agriculture, oil and gas, waste management, etc. Methane has a unique absorption pattern or a spectral fingerprint for infrared radiation. EMIT can detect methane using its spectral fingerprint with high accuracy. Along with methane, EMIT can also effectively detect the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. David Thompson, the scientist in EMIT mission stated that the ability of EMIT to detect methane emissions is exceptional which allows researchers to facilitate methane control on a facility level. He further continued that the EMIT’s ability to detect methane is a unique one, and will help in minimizing the concentration of artificially emitted methane due to human activities.  When it comes to the concentration of greenhouse gasses, methane is present in the atmosphere at very small concentrations, relatively very low to carbon dioxide. But methane is almost 80 times more potent in producing the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide. Because of this, even a small fraction of methane released in the atmosphere is crucial in managing global warming. Methane lingers in the atmosphere for a shorter period, when compared to carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide has a lingering period of over centuries, while methane lingers for around a decade. Hence, if the emission of methane is restricted in time, we could have an atmosphere that has a minimal concentration of methane. These observations by EMIT on methane emissions have ensured the researchers about the accuracy of the equipment. During the mission, EMIT will be monitoring the presence of surface minerals in many areas such as Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia.