Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide during its first 20 years after it is released to the atmosphere. Methane from human activities is causing at least a quarter of the warming our planet is experiencing today.
MethaneSAT is designed to locate and measure methane from human sources worldwide, giving both companies and governments new ability to track, quantify, and reduce those emissions — and supplying the public with data to see that the job is being done.
One of the largest sources of these emissions today is the oil and gas industry. Cutting oil and gas methane emissions is the single fastest, most impactful thing we can do to slow the rate of warming today, even as we work to decarbonize our energy system. For example, reducing oil and gas methane emissions 45 percent by 2025 would deliver the same 20-year benefit to the climate as immediately closing 1,300 coal-fired power plants.
MethaneSAT will provide regular monitoring of regions that account for more than 80 percent of global oil and gas production, with enough detail to identify the location and emissions rate with an unprecedented degree of precision, and determine responsibility for those emissions — offering a valuable new metric for a wide range of stakeholders. MethaneSAT will also have the capability to measure emissions from industrial agriculture and other human-made methane sources.
MethaneSAT will locate and measure methane emissions from oil and gas operations almost anywhere on Earth with precision and at a scale never before achieved, at a fraction of the cost of most space missions. It is specifically designed to generate data that will enable both companies and countries to identify, manage, and reduce their methane emissions, slowing the rate at which our planet is warming.
The mission fills a critical gap in the capabilities of other satellites—both in orbit now and on the drawing board. Other satellites can either identify methane emissions across large geographic areas, or measure them at predetermined locations. MethaneSAT will do both. It will cover a wide, 200-kilometer view path (124 miles) passing over important target regions every few days.
MethaneSat’s advanced sensors will pick up the sun’s reflected infrared radiation as it passes through the atmosphere and parse them to reveal methane’s unique fingerprint. A series of sophisticated algorithms will sort through the data — factoring in the influence of clouds, tiny particles of air pollution, and reflectivity of ground cover— to calculate even small changes in methane emission rates.
MethaneSAT is using the latest scientific and technological innovations in sensor design, spectroscopy, data retrieval algorithms and flux inversions — a state-of-the-art modeling technique used to distinguish human-made emissions from ambient sources, and trace them back to their origin.
MethaneSAT will use a highly sensitive spectrometer to separate the narrow band within the shortwave infrared spectrum where methane absorbs light, allowing it to detect methane concentrations as low as two parts per billion. The satellite’s high-resolution coupled with a 200-kilometer view path will enable MethaneSAT to quantify even small emission sources over large areas.
To turn a vast stream of raw data into actionable information, the MethaneSAT team will apply inverse modeling of methane concentration patterns factoring in the effects of winds and other atmospheric conditions in order to determine the location and quantity of both larger point methane sources as well as smaller emissions from across larger areas.
MethaneSAT is being developed by a wholly-owned subsidiary of the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which has a long, successful record of working with both business and policymakers to create innovative, science-based solutions to critical environmental challenges. EDF also organized an unprecedented series of 16 independent studies that produced more than 35 peer-reviewed scientific papers involving more than 150 academic and industry experts to assess methane emissions at every stage in the U.S. oil and gas supply chain.
The idea for MethaneSAT was first unveiled by EDF President Fred Krupp in an April 2018 TED Talk, as one of the inaugural group of world-changing ideas selected for seed funding by the Audacious Project, successor to the TED Prize.
The oil and gas industry releases an estimated 75 million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere each year. The International Energy Agency estimates that the industry can achieve a 75 percent reduction using technologies available today (two-thirds of this at no net cost).
Leading oil and gas companies have begun to establish methane reduction targets, and several countries have either adopted regulations or are in the process of developing them. MethaneSAT will provide a tool that industry and government officials can use to provide the public with independent and objective assurance that reductions are being made and commitments kept.
MethaneSAT is designed to both identify and solve a global environmental problem. By providing global emissions data on a regular basis, the mission will vastly expand the public’s knowledge and understanding of both the magnitude of the problem and the opportunities to solve it. Companies and countries will have the data they need to take action and measure results.