• Recently MethaneSAT was launched aboard by SpaceX Falcon9 rocket from California.
  • It is a satellite which will track and measure methane emissions at a global scale.

The need to track and measure methane emissions:

  • It is an invisible but strong greenhouse gas, and the second largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.
  • It is responsible for 30 per cent of global heating since the Industrial Revolution.
  • According to the United Nations Environment Programme, over a timeline of 20 years, methane is 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide.
  • The gas also contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone which is a colourless and highly irritating gas that forms just above the Earth’s surface.
  • According to a recent 2022 report, exposure to ground-level ozone could be contributing to one million premature deaths every year.

About MethaneSAT:

  • The entity behind the formation of MethaneSAT is the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) which is a US-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group.
  • In order to develop the satellite, EDF partnered with Harvard University, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and the New Zealand Space Agency.
  • MethaneSAT will orbit the Earth 15 times a day and monitors the oil and gas sector.
  • According to a statement by EDF the satellite will create a large amount of data, which will inform how much methane is coming from where, who’s responsible, and are those emissions going up or down over time.
  • The data which will be collected by MethaneSAT will be made public for free in near real-time.
  • This will allow the stakeholders and regulators to take action to reduce methane emissions.

What are the features of MethaneSAT?

  • It is equipped with a high-resolution infrared sensor and a spectrometer and thus will fill critical data gaps.
  • It can also track differences in methane concentrations as small as three parts per billion in the atmosphere, which enables it to pick up smaller emissions sources than the previous satellites.
  • MethaneSAT also has a wide-camera view of about 200 km by 200 km thus allowing it to identify larger emitters so-called “super emitters”.

About Methane:

  • Methane is a colorless, odorless, and highly flammable gas that is the simplest member of the alkane series of hydrocarbons.
  • Its chemical formula is CH4, which means it is composed of one carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms.
  • Methane is a primary component of natural gas and is used extensively for heating and cooking in homes.
  • It also serves as a significant source of fuel for electricity generation and is used in the manufacture of numerous chemicals and synthetic materials.
  • Methane is also released during the production and transport of coal, oil, and natural gas.
  • In addition to its uses as a fuel, methane is also a potent greenhouse gas.
  • While it does not last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, it is far more effective at trapping heat, making it a significant contributor to global warming.
  • Methane is released into the atmosphere by natural processes, but human activities, such as agriculture and waste management, significantly increase its concentrations.
  • Methane can also be produced by anaerobic digestion, which involves breaking down organic material in the absence of oxygen.
  • This process is used in landfills and wastewater treatment plants to generate methane, which can then be collected and used as a renewable source of energy.
  • Despite the potential environmental impacts, when used responsibly and managed correctly, methane can play a crucial role in meeting the world’s energy needs.

Super emitters:

  • Super emitters refer to a small subset of sources that are responsible for a disproportionately large amount of emissions.
  • These can be in the form of industries, companies, facilities, or even individual vehicles that emit high levels of pollutants.
  • In the context of greenhouse gas emissions, studies have found that a very small percentage of emitting sources are often responsible for the majority of emissions.
  • For instance, it’s been observed that just a few of the largest and most inefficient power plants can contribute more emissions than all the cars and trucks in certain regions.
  • These super emitters can have a significant impact on air quality and contribute significantly to climate change.
  • They might be particularly inefficient power plants that burn large amounts of coal, oil, or gas; factories with outdated and polluting technologies; or landfills that release massive amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
  • Identifying and addressing these super emitters is a crucial part of efforts to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.
  • By focusing on these major contributors, it’s possible to achieve substantial emissions reductions.
  • This approach is often more cost-effective and efficient than attempting to reduce emissions across a larger number of smaller sources.
  • However, tackling super emitters also presents challenges.
  • These sources are often associated with key industries or sectors of the economy, and reducing their emissions can involve significant economic costs and complexities.
  • It requires not only technological solutions but also policy and regulatory measures, economic incentives, and sometimes changes in consumer behaviour or business practices.
  • Despite these challenges, addressing super emitters is a crucial part of the global response to climate change.

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