The satellite allows a precise vision of methane


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There is a powerful new satellite in the sky to monitor emissions of methane (CH4), one of the main gases causing human-made climate change.

Known as Iris, the spacecraft can map plumes of CH4 in the atmosphere down to a resolution of just 25m.

This helps identify individual sources, such as specific oil and gas installations.

Iris was launched by Montreal, Canada-based GHGSat company on September 2.

It is the pioneer of what the company hopes will be a constellation of 10 spaceships by the end of 2022.

The image at the top of this page is Iris’ “first light” – her first attempt to detect significant methane release.

The sighting was made over Turkmenistan, in an area where large plumes of oil and gas infrastructure were previously noted.

The detection, superimposed on a standard aerial image, shows the concentration of methane in the air above normal background levels.

“Let me tell you the team had a big hurray when the data fell as we could see the spectroscopy was there, the resolution was there – everything was as it should be”, recalled Stéphane Germain, CEO by GHGSat.

“We still have to work on the calibration, which will then allow us to verify the detection threshold and the final performance of the satellite. But as a first-light image – by any standard, it’s phenomenal, ”he told BBC News.

The global warming potential of methane is 30 times that of carbon dioxide, so it is imperative that unnecessary releases are limited or reduced.

Human-produced sources are many and varied, including not only oil and gas installations, but also agriculture, landfills, coal mines and hydroelectric dams.

Already, GHGSat is working with operators, regulators and other interested parties to characterize these emissions using a prototype satellite called Claire that it launched in 2016. Iris’s in-orbit presence provides additional data stream to the company that it now intends to perform in a brand new British analysis center, which will be installed in Edinburgh and London in the coming weeks.

“There is world-class capability in what we do in the UK,” said Dr Germain, “not only in analysis, but also in the spacecraft systems that we’re interested in.

“The UK is a jurisdiction where climate change matters to people, and we want to be where people are willing to participate in growing a business that wants to address it around the world. “

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Illustration: Sentinel-5P makes daily world maps of specific gases in the atmosphere

GHGSat recently strengthened its ties with the European Space Agency, which operates the EU’s Sentinel-5P satellite.

It also monitors methane, taking a daily global snapshot of the gas. But at a resolution of 7km, its data is much less resolved than those of Iris, or of Claire, which captures the atmosphere at scales of 50m.

Put them all together, though, and they kind of make up a dream team to investigate CH4.

“They (Sentinel-5P) can see the whole world every day. We cannot do that. But we can see individual installations. They can’t do that. So really, it’s a fantastic combination, and it makes for a really good relationship with the European Space Agency that I think we’re just at the start of becoming something much, much bigger. ”

GHG’s next satellite, Hugo, is in testing and is expected to launch at the end of this year.

The company recently secured $ 30million (£ 23million) in additional funding, which allows it to build the three spacecraft that will follow Hugo into orbit.


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