NASA technology detects dangerous greenhouse gas methane released from space

San Francisco (KGO)—— For decades, the International Space Station has extended scientific research beyond Earth’s atmosphere. But now, a technology placed on the space station is targeting a major threat to our planet itself, the release of methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas.

“It blew my mind that EMIT was not designed to study methane, even though we knew it might have some potential,” said Dr. Robert Green, principal investigator on NASA’s EMIT project.

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EMIT employs a precision imaging spectrometer developed at NASA-JPL in Pasadena. The technology will launch and be installed on the space station in early 2022.

By essentially measuring reflected light, it can identify the fingerprint of things like methane in the atmosphere. But researchers were surprised when EMIT began recording plumes from so-called super-emission sources, including a landfill in Iran and another site found over oil-rich Turkmenistan.

“And we were able to retrieve their beauty with EMIT measurements, which really exceeded all my expectations,” Green said.

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One reason for the excitement is that EMIT’s core mission is actually imaging the dust and elements that could influence climate change. But over the past decade, researchers in California have helped pioneer the use of airborne spectrometers to monitor methane emissions at locations ranging from utilities and landfills to wastewater treatment plants.

In 2021, ABC7 describes a special aircraft and NASA/JPL designed equipment used to identify leaks across the state. But Dr. Green said EMIT technology is many times more complex and offers the potential to monitor and pinpoint greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale.

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“And then hopefully policy makers can say, well, there are some sources of methane here. We don’t know what’s going on, what can be done to mitigate it?” Green believes.

It has the potential to provide the international community with powerful new tools to combat climate change.

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