New satellite to combat carbon emissions from space

The world’s first satellite designed to detect sources of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, is due to be launched into space this year, promising to give authorities a tool to monitor compliance with emission reduction efforts to slow climate change.

The satellite, built by the Canadian company GHGSat, will be able to detect major sources of carbon dioxide, such as individual coal-fired power plants and cement plants.

Founded in 2011, GHGSat currently operates a fleet of six satellites that excel at detecting the most powerful but less common greenhouse gas, methane. Since the launch of its first satellite in 2016, the company has made headlines several times. Other discoveries included large unreported methane leaks from gas fields in Turkmenistan and Russian coal mines. The GHGSat spacecraft has also proven how much warming gas is leaking from landfills around the world, and has even recorded cows burping from space.

On the subject: Satellites detect huge amounts of undeclared methane emissions

But spotting point sources of methane is much easier than spotting individual sources of carbon dioxide, which is 80 times smaller but nearly eight times stronger. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, background concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere are quite high and currently amount to almost 420 parts of carbon dioxide per million parts of air. (will open in a new tab)(NOAA). Therefore, to detect an additional plume coming from artificial sources on top of this high background, sensitive sensors are required, which were not available before. In comparison, the Earth’s atmosphere contains only about 1,900 parts of methane per billion parts of air, making it much easier to detect additional sources.

However, after fine-tuning its technology over the past six years, GHGSat said its new GHGSat-C10 satellite will be able to detect carbon dioxide point sources with a resolution of 82 feet (25 meters), enough to reliably detect individual pollutants. .

“GHGSat-C10 will use a similar optical design and the same proprietary infrared sensor as its methane detecting predecessors, but tuned to specific carbon dioxide wavelengths,” the company said in a statement. (will open in a new tab).

GHGSat launched its first carbon dioxide detection sensor on its demonstration satellite in 2016. However, the company’s focus later shifted to methane due to market demand, the company added.

Other satellites are currently orbiting the Earth on a mission to monitor fluctuations in atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, these satellites, such as NASA’s Carbon Orbital Observatory (OCO) 2 and 3, lack the resolution needed to detect individual sources. But in a study published last October, a team of Canadian researchers demonstrated the ability to extract information about individual pollutants from OCO data.

By analyzing measurements taken during several OCO passes over Europe’s largest coal-fired power plant, the Belchatow power plant in Poland, the researchers were able to detect fluctuations associated with shutdowns and upgrades of individual plant units. The European Space Agency (ESA) is also currently working on a constellation of satellites to track anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions from space.

Experts hope these technologies will, for the first time, provide authorities with a tool to objectively track anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide, the number one cause of climate change. Such measurements will help ensure that international commitments to reduce emissions are met as the world struggles to make even modest progress against climate change.

According to recent reports from NASA, NOAA and the European environmental monitoring program Copernicus, despite political statements to limit emissions, concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere continue to rise.

Currently, countries self-report emissions based on the productivity of their industries, which leads to delays in the emissions reporting process. Also, as the methane leaks detected by the GHGSat satellite show, this often means that large contributions go unaccounted for.

But as the frequency of devastating weather disasters linked to climate change increases, politicians around the world are likely to call for tougher action on reckless polluters. Satellites like GHGSat-C10 could be exactly the weapon they need.

“Over the past seven years, we have shown that there is a demand – from industry and the public sector – for accurate, independent, high-resolution data on emissions from space,” said Stéphane Germain, CEO of GHGSat. “It helped change the conversation about methane by putting a greenhouse gas that had been out of sight and attention at the top of the climate agenda. When C10 launches later this year, we hope to revive the discussion around carbon dioxide as well. providing industry and government with the tools to help them solve this global problem locally.”

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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