Detecting significant, global emissions of methane, a strong greenhouse gas, has proven to be a critical task for Earth science performed by an orbital NASA instrument that was originally developed primarily to further studies of airborne dust and its implications on climate change.
Since its installation in July on board the International Space Station, the imaging spectrometer, as it is sometimes known, has discovered more than 50 methane “super-emitters” in Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Southwestern United States, NASA reported on Tuesday.
Numerous enormous oil and gas complexes and sizable landfills are among the newly measured methane hotspots, some of which have been known for a while and others which are brand-new.
The primary purpose of the spectrometer was to determine the mineral composition of dust carried into the atmosphere from Earth’s deserts and other arid places by analysing the light’s wavelengths.
NASA’s Earth Surface Mineral Dust Investigation, or EMIT, will assist researchers in determining if airborne dust in various regions of the world is likely to trap or deflect heat from the sun, so contributing to the warming or cooling of the planet.
Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles, where the equipment was designed and constructed, have discovered that methane absorbs infrared light in a distinct pattern that the spectrometer on EMIT can easily identify.
From its position atop the space station, 250 miles (420 km) above the surface of the globe, EMIT can scan huge swaths of the earth that are many miles across while simultaneously focusing in on areas as tiny as a soccer field. It completes one full orbit of the planet every 90 minutes.