Interactive Global Map Reveals Where Methane Is Being Released Anywhere On Earth

New pictures taken by satellite have revealed the concerning levels of a powerful greenhouse gas being released by agricultural and industrial operations around the world.

Pulse, the interactive global map from Montreal firm GHGSat shows average concentrations of methane as detected by two small methane-detecting spacecraft. Along with data form the EU and European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P Tropomi mission, the tool can be used to identify methane pollution, accurate to 2 square kilometers.

“This is about a bunch of things for us,” company CEO Stephane Germain told BBC News. “First and foremost, we constantly get asked if we can make some of our data and expertise available for free, and Pulse is part of our contribution to that. The data and the algorithms we’ve used are open. But we’re also making this map available to let everyone see what methane looks like worldwide on a more granular, higher-resolution scale than has ever been available before. And we hope that’ll stimulate some conversations and some questions.”

The GHGSat system uses satellites that track methane emissions throughout the world.
Source: YouTube/GHGSat Inc
The GHGSat system uses satellites that track methane emissions throughout the world.

GHGSat updates the data weekly, providing an “eye in the sky” that regulatory bodies can use to track heavy polluters.

“Centre the map over northern China and you can see the effect the country’s coal mines have in raising concentrations,” the BBC reports. “Move across to northern Italy and look at how the Dolomite Mountains trap methane in the Po Valley, as they do all pollutants emanating from this industrialised sector of the nation. ”

The Pulse interactive global map tracks methane emissions, which are a major contributor to global warming.
Source: YouTube/GHGSat Inc
The Pulse interactive global map tracks methane emissions, which are a major contributor to global warming.

Methane’s increasing presence in the atmosphere has climatologists and many others worried, as it’s not yet understood why it continues to increase. One would assume major metropolitan areas, for example, would contribute more methane than unpopulated plains or arctic tundra. And that would be correct, but methane is still coming from these non-industrialized areas, too.

“We know that there is not a lot of industrial activity in Northern Canada,” said Sarah Gallagher, a scientific adviser for the Canadian Space Agency. “The red areas (on the map) are natural sources of methane. One of the important consequences of climate change is the impact on permafrost melting, which can influence methane emissions. But when you go into summer — June, July, August — the colors start to change to red. It is reasonable to assume that there is more methane due to the melting permafrost.”

Tracking methane emissions could help regulatory bodies address climate change issues.
Source: YouTube/GHGSat Inc
Tracking methane emissions could help regulatory bodies address climate change issues.

Moreover, methane contributes to global warming 30 times more than an equal amount of carbon dioxide. And according to a Princeton University study published in Science Daily, “each degree that the Earth’s temperature rises, the amount of methane entering the atmosphere from microorganisms dwelling in lake sediment and freshwater wetlands — the primary sources of the gas — will increase several times.”

GHGSat intends on launching more methane-detecting satellites into orbit in the coming years, potentially enabling a detection system that can identify sources of methane within about 80 feet.

The Pulse system may someday soon be accurate to about 80 feet.
Source: YouTube/GHGSat Inc
The Pulse system may someday soon be accurate to about 80 feet.

“We want Pulse to keep evolving as other satellites come online; there are other satellites being built right now to monitor methane,” Dr Germain said. “We want to ingest multiple other sources of information to provide a combined look at what’s going on in the world.”

Learn more in the video below.

Matthew Russell is a West Michigan native and with a background in journalism, data analysis, cartography and design thinking. He likes to learn new things and solve old problems whenever possible, and enjoys bicycling, going to the dog park, spending time with his daughter, and coffee.

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