Using Satellites to Track Emissions

Geostat Satellite

New tools are being leveraged to better track emissions around the world. Using data from the European Space Agency’s Envisat satellite, researchers have been able to come up with more accurate measures for emissions coming from the 4 Corners region of the United States. According to their data, emissions are 1.8 times higher than recorded by the American Environmental Protection Agency.

If the estimates are accurate, then the Four Corners region may be responsible for 5% of all of the US methane emissions. However fracking is just getting started in this region, leading the researchers to conclude that many of these emissions are from preexisting sources such as coal mining and natural gas and oil production. Subsequent measurements taken at the ground confirmed that the EPA estimates of emissions were too low, but the

This study implies that emissions may be underestimated in series of regions across the United States and perhaps the world. While the study did not specifically quantify the proportion of these increased measured emissions attributable to fracking, fracking increasing in this region. This calls for a comprehensive reevaluation of emissions to be conducted using these new satellite based tools . Current methods of evaluating emissions that are not direct measures of emissions appear to have a bias to under represent actual emissions. Further this tool can be used to more easily identify increasing sources of methane emissions in both the United States and around the world.

Source: Kort, E. A., Frankenberg, C., Costigan, K. R. et al. (2014). Four corners: The largest US methane anomaly viewed from space. Geophysical Research Letters 41, DOI: 10.1002/2014GL061503.

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