Researchers reveal the worst methane emitters in the US

Uwhen it comes to global warming, methane is a monster. It may only account for 11% of the greenhouse gases emitted each year, but in its first 20 years in the atmosphere it is 80 times more efficient at trapping heat than the much more common carbon dioxide. That’s why it’s so important to spot the worst emitters and shut them down – or at least reduce their power. now, as reported by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).researchers have taken a major step toward achieving this goal.

in new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from JPL, the University of Arizona, and Arizona State University have pinpointed the point sources of 40 percent of the worst methane emitters in the U.S. The researchers used two key tools to conduct their study: the Arizona State Global Air Observatory ( GAO ), an imaging spectrometer carried aboard an aircraft flying at 5,500 m (18,000 ft) that can spot point sources of methane on the ground; and the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite, which does the same job from orbit.

Using both eyes on the sky, the researchers identified over 3,000 individual methane superemitters – defined as places releasing more than 10 kg (22 lbs) of methane per hour. Emission sites include oil and gas production facilities, wet manure sites in animal feedlots, large landfills, and coal mines.

However, identifying the sources is not the same as excluding them, and some are more difficult to control than others. While animals are raised for slaughter, for example, there will always be batches of methane-emitting feed. On the other hand, the oil and gas industry can waste methane control they produce in many ways. Currently, they dispose of most of the gas by flaring—essentially burning it at the mouth of smokestacks—which simply throws it into the sky. Re-injecting it deep into wells or harvesting it for sale as natural gas would be better, much less polluting alternatives. Even better, of course, would be to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels altogether by switching to clean renewables like wind and solar.

This story originally appeared in TIME Space, our weekly newsletter covering all things space. You can register here.

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger c [email protected].

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Write to Jeffrey Kluger c [email protected].

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