Four Things to Know About MethaneSAT — The Satellite Taking Climate Surveillance to New Heights


Through MethaneSAT, EDF and partners like the Bezos Earth Fund are helping to transform the fight against climate change by tracking where methane is leaking around the world.
Through MethaneSAT, the Environmental Defense Fund and partners like the Bezos Earth Fund are helping to transform the fight against climate change by tracking where methane is leaking around the world. (Photo credit: MethaneSAT / EDF)

Earth has a new set of eyes watching it. It’s a satellite called MethaneSAT, which is now circling the globe, on the lookout for methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas. MethaneSAT will provide companies, countries, advocates, and citizens with high resolution data on where emissions are coming from, across regions and over time. And here’s the key: the data will be free for anyone to access.

The Bezos Earth Fund proudly partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund to launch MethaneSAT in March 2024.

Ready to boost your methane knowledge into orbit? Here are four things you should know:

1. What is methane and why do we need to monitor it?

When we think about climate change, we often think about carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide remains the main culprit of global warming, and every year of delay in reducing these emissions further commits us to warming for centuries. However, several other powerful greenhouse gases also drive rising global temperatures. 

Methane is the second largest contributor to warming after carbon dioxide, having contributed 30% of warming since the industrial revolution. In fact, a molecule of methane holds more than 80x the warming power of carbon dioxide, when viewed on a 20-year timeframe. This means that reducing methane emissions can play a particularly important role in limiting near-term warming.

Methane is primarily produced as a byproduct from agriculture, oil and gas, and the breakdown of waste in landfills. As a result of these activities, methane is accumulating in our atmosphere at a rate of around 50 million metric tons per year (over the past 20 years), with atmospheric concentrations of methane reaching their highest level on record in 2023

To combat the catastrophic effects of climate change, it is critical to quickly curb methane emissions. Research estimates that cutting methane emissions could slow the rate of warming from greenhouse gas emissions by 30%.

But before we can rapidly reduce methane emissions, we must first improve our knowledge of where exactly methane is emitted.

MethaneSAT revolutionizes climate monitoring by precisely measuring methane emissions, identifying their origins, and tracking progress in emission reduction efforts over time. (Photo credit: MethaneSAT / EDF)

2. What is MethaneSAT?

To monitor methane, the Environmental Defense Fund partnered with Harvard University, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, and the New Zealand Space Agency to measure emissions from space. They developed a satellite to track emissions at regional and local scales. Their goal? Determine the magnitude of methane emissions, attribute the emissions back to the emitters, and track progress toward reducing methane emissions over time. 

MethaneSAT will orbit the Earth 15 times a day (once every 96 minutes), monitoring emissions from oil and gas operations and other sources of emissions around the world. It will regularly monitor 50 major regions accounting for more than 80% of global oil and gas production. 

The data collected by MethaneSAT will then be made public in near real-time, allowing anyone, anywhere to access this critical information on global sources of methane emissions.

3. How is MethaneSAT different from other types of methane measurements?

Greater transparency has long been needed to understand the scale and location of methane emissions over time to target the largest reduction opportunities. Because methane has been overlooked, there have not been concerted efforts, until recently, to measure emissions with great precision or accuracy. 

Several challenges plague traditional estimate techniques — in fact, a study from the International Energy Agency found that global methane emissions are about 70% higher than levels reported by national governments.

Satellites like MethaneSAT provide continuous observations at high resolution. Other satellite efforts exist, but MethaneSAT fills important gaps. For example, the European Space Agency’s TROPOMI satellite can detect methane, but it can’t attribute emissions to most individual sites. 

On the other hand, satellites such as Carbon Mapper and GHGSat measure methane at specific locations, but not over large fields of view. MethaneSAT allows for the quantification of total emissions across entire landscapes, while detecting concentrated point sources, such as gas pipeline leaks, and dispersed areas sources, such as wetlands. That said, all of these satellites are crucial to our full understanding of methane emissions.

Unlocking unprecedented transparency, MethaneSAT's data will be publicly accessible in near real-time, offering invaluable insights into global methane emissions.
Unlocking unprecedented transparency, MethaneSAT's data will be publicly accessible in near real-time, offering invaluable insights into global methane emissions. (Photo credit: MethaneSAT / EDF)

4. How will MethaneSAT advance action?

Armed with MethaneSAT’s data, governments will now be able to improve their national inventories, which provide an estimate of emissions, and better target high polluting activities. Additionally, governments such as United States and Europe will now have enhanced regulatory oversight for their recent rules that curb methane emissions. 

Authorities will be better equipped to enforce, implement, and strengthen these regulations. They will also be able to use the almost real-time data as an early warning system to investigate and respond promptly to unexpected emission increases.

For corporations that have adopted methane commitments, the satellite’s data will help them identify and fix leaks from their operations and prioritize emissions cuts where they matter most. Also, as regions implement stricter regulations, companies can use MethaneSAT’s data to proactively monitor and ensure compliance.

Investors can use the data to scrutinize performance. For the public, MethaneSAT provides the opportunity to hold governments and companies accountable and demand action.

“Nowhere to hide”

With MethaneSAT in orbit, we are ushering in a new era of transparency. For those committed to reducing methane emissions, they will have more tools than ever at their disposal. And for those polluters not leading boldly, they now have nowhere to hide.

MethaneSAT, welcome to our skies! May your data inspire swift and decisive action.

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