A NASA science instrument in orbit will form the backbone of a new initiative to research methane emissions from landfills in a new nonprofit project to monitor the greenhouse gas.
The new project, led by the nonprofit Carbon Mapper Group, will use data collected from the International Space Station by NASA’s EMIT experiment (its name is short for Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation) and other NASA science instruments to tracking methane, which according to NASA is the source of about a quarter to a third of human-caused global warming.
By establishing a baseline assessment of waste sites around the planet and identifying which sites emit methane at high rates, the initiative could help decision-makers reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, thus limiting climate change.
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“Currently, there is limited information on methane emissions from the global waste sector,” said Carbon Mapper CEO Riley Duren. NASA statement. “A thorough understanding of the point sources of high emissions from waste sites is a critical step in mitigating them.”
Compared to carbon dioxide, methane is 80 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Unlike carbon dioxide, however, methane does not last as long in the Earth’s atmosphere and has a lifetime of decades rather than centuries. This means that significantly reducing methane emissions could have a direct effect on slowing atmospheric warming.
As the waste sector is estimated to contribute around 20% of human-caused methane emissions, it is one of the main targets of the mission to reduce this greenhouse gas.
“New technological capabilities that make these emissions visible—and thus actionable—have the potential to change the game, improving our collective understanding of near-term opportunities in this often-neglected area,” Duren said.
The Carbon Mapper project will conduct an initial remote sensing survey of over 1,000 managed landfills in the United States, Canada and other locations in Latin America, Africa and Asia in 2023.
These data will be collected using aircraft-based sensors such as the Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer-Next Generation (AVIRIS-NG (opens in new tab)) and Arizona State University’s Airborne Global Observatory were developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.
The project will also use methane data from EMIT that was installed on the International Space Station in July to study the mineral content of the planet’s major dust producing regions.
In October 2022, EMIT demonstrated its ability to detect methane by detecting plumes of methane from over 50 so-called “super-emitters” in Central Asia, the Middle East and the Southwestern United States.
“NASA JPL has a decade-long history of using airborne imaging spectrometers to make high-quality observations of methane point source emissions,” said Robert Green, the EMIT principal investigator at JPL, in the NASA statement. “With EMIT we have used the same technology on a space instrument, allowing us to collect information about localized sources of methane from orbit.”
After its first year of operation, the Carbon Mapper team will begin a broader survey of approximately 10,000 landfills around the world using satellites equipped with imaging spectrometer technology developed at JPL. These specially designed Carbon Mapper spacecraft are due to launch in late 2023.
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