GOES Satellites Take Aim at Emissions of Methane Monitoring

Researchers harness the power of the GOES constellation to detect and quantify methane emissions, shedding light on an environmentally crucial aspect.

Researchers harness the power of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) constellation to detect and quantify methane emissions, shedding light on an environmentally crucial aspect.

Though yet to undergo peer review, the research showcases the immense potential of this technique, as highlighted by Shobha Kondragunta, Aerosols and Atmospheric Composition science team lead at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Satellite and Information Service.

The pressing global goal to mitigate methane emissions, recognized as second only to carbon dioxide in its atmospheric warming potential, takes a significant leap forward with the utilization of the Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) aboard the GOES-East and GOES-West satellites. Unlike traditional low-Earth orbit satellites, these geostationary satellites offer unparalleled opportunities for frequent observations, capturing images every five minutes.

Harvard University, ETH Zurich, the Polytechnic University of Valencia, and the United Nation’s International Methane Emissions Observatory collaborated on a study focusing on the ABI’s utility for methane leak detection. The researchers concentrated on emissions from a natural gas pipeline in Durango, Mexico, in 2019, with the leak initially identified by the European Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite.

Utilizing shortwave infrared data from the ABI, researchers determined the duration of the release to be three hours. The emission rate during this period ranged from 260 to 550 metric tons of methane per hour, resulting in a total emission of 1,130 to 1,380 metric tons. The significance of this release is underscored by the fact that it could power 3,600–4,400 Mexican urban households for a year.

The paper titled “Geostationary satellite observations of extreme methane emissions from a natural gas pipeline,” published on the preprint server EarthArXiv in June, emphasizes the unique value of geostationary satellite instruments. Unlike conventional methods, these instruments allow for the detection of extreme and brief methane emission events, precise quantification of emissions from variable point sources, and accurate determination of source locations.

Shikha Ganguly, L3Harris general manager for weather and space systems, expressed excitement about this new application of ABI capabilities, highlighting that it’s not the first time the instrument has proven useful in a new observational area with high impact.

Ganguly emphasized the potential for continued enhancement in observing capabilities, with the successor to ABI, the GeoXO imager, poised to offer even greater resolution and observational capabilities.

The GeoXO imager, developed by L3Harris under a $765.5 million contract awarded in March 2023, will build upon the success of ABI. Seven of its 16 channels will boast improved resolution, further refining the ability to track and monitor phenomena like methane emissions. This advancement in technology holds promise for bolstering NOAA’s efforts in methane emission monitoring.

In a SpaceNews webinar on methane monitoring, Kondragunta expressed optimism about incorporating these capabilities into NOAA’s toolkit, marking a significant stride towards a more comprehensive and efficient approach to tracking and addressing methane leaks.

As the world grapples with the urgent need to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the utilization of geostationary satellite imagers emerges as a pivotal and transformative tool, showcasing their potential to contribute significantly to global environmental conservation efforts.