There’s a powerful new satellite in the sky to monitor methane (CH4) emissions, one of the key gases driving human-made climate change.
The spaceship known as the Iris can image CH4 flags in the atmosphere up to a resolution of only 25 m.
In this way, individual sources such as specific oil and gas facilities can be identified.
Iris was founded on September 2nd by Montreal, Canada-based GHGSat company.
It paves the way for a constellation of 10 spacecraft by the end of 2022.
The image at the top of this page is Iris’ “first light” – the first attempt at detecting significant methane emissions.
The observation was made over Turkmenistan in a region where large flags from the oil and gas infrastructure were previously detected.
The detection, which is superimposed on a standard aerial photo, shows the methane concentration in the air that is above normal background levels.
“Let me tell you that the team had a big hurray when the data came down because we could see the spectroscopy was there, the resolution was there – everything was as it should be,” recalled GHGSat- CEO Stéphane Germain.
“We still have to work on the calibration, which will then allow us to check 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. It is therefore imperative that unnecessary releases are restricted or restricted.
Man-made sources are diverse and include not only oil and gas installations, but also agriculture, landfills, coal mines, and hydroelectric plants.
GHGSat is already working with operators, regulators and other interested parties to characterize these emissions using a prototype satellite called Claire, which was launched in 2016. Iris’ presence in orbit gives the company an additional stream of data that it is now looking to interpret at a brand new UK analytics hub due to be set up in Edinburgh and London in the coming weeks.
“What we do in the UK is world class,” said Dr. Germain, “not just in analytics, but also in the spacecraft systems we are interested in.”
“Britain is a jurisdiction where climate change is important to the people and we want to be where people are ready to participate in the growth of a company that wants to address this worldwide.”
GHGSat recently strengthened its relationship with the European Space Agency, which operates the EU satellite Sentinel-5P.
This also monitors methane and takes a global snapshot of the gas on a daily basis. At a resolution of 7 km, however, the data is much less resolved than that of Iris or Claire, who perceive the atmosphere at a magnitude of 50 m.
However, put them all together and they form something of a dream team for studying CH4.
“You (Sentinel-5P) can see the whole world every day. We can’t. But we can see individual entities. You can’t. So, really, it’s a fantastic combination and it makes a very good relationship with the European Space Agency, which I think is just beginning to become something much, much bigger. “
GHG’s next satellite, Hugo, is under test and is expected to launch at the end of this year.
The company recently raised $ 30 million (£ 23 million) in additional funding to build the three starships that will follow Hugo into orbit.
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