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U.N. deploys satellite-based methane tracking system

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with far more warming potential than carbon dioxide.

The United Nations is deploying a satellite-based system to monitor methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas usually associated with oil and natural gas production. File photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI
The United Nations is deploying a satellite-based system to monitor methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas usually associated with oil and natural gas production. File photo by Gary C. Caskey/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 11 (UPI) -- The United Nations announced Friday that it would deploy a new satellite-based system to monitor global emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with far more warming capacity than carbon dioxide.

The U.N. Environment Program launched the Methane Alert and Response System, or MARS, to monitor methane from space in order to address methane concerns, and to provide the information necessary for possible abatement, it said in a statement.

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MARS will tap into global mapping satellites to identify methane hot spots and the U.N. Environment Program will in turn notify the respective governments and/or companies so they can consider the appropriate action.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has already located more than 50 so-called super emitters of methane using its Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation system installed on the International Space Station. It's uncovered several significant methane plumes across Central Asia, the Middle East and the southwestern United States, and many of them are associated with oil and natural gas production.

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An intergovernmental panel on climate change finds the world needs to cut methane emissions drastically in order to keep global temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Inger Andersen, the executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said that, unfortunately, the global community is nowhere near where it needs to be.

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"Reducing methane emissions can make a big and rapid difference, as this gas leaves the atmosphere far quicker than carbon dioxide," he said from the sidelines of the COP27 environmental summit in Egypt.

U.S. President Joe Biden, for his part, arrived Friday at the COP27 summit armed with a series of domestic initiatives, including efforts to address methane emissions from the domestic oil and gas sector.

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Frans Timmermans, the executive vice president of the European Commission, said measures like these can help address methane emissions quickly.

"These emissions often peak in specific areas for limited amounts of time, for example in the energy sector due to leaks, venting, and flaring. Early detection of these peaks makes it possible to respond faster," he said.

Methane has far more warming potential than carbon dioxide and if emissions don't come down enough, there would be "irreversible and adverse consequences for human and natural systems," the U.S. Department of Energy warned in a recent report.

RELATED WMO report: Greenhouse gas emissions reached record highs in 2021

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