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  • Writer's pictureTravis Turgeon

How GHGSat is Monitoring Emissions from Space + Spire Global Launch

“If we can measure emissions, we can manage them too.”

Man and woman look at Spire Global logo inside satellite facilities

In 2013, for the first time in recorded human history, atmospheric carbon concentrations exceeded 400 ppm. Not much has changed over the last decade, and today, CO2 levels are at their highest on record. The implications are severe, and this becomes painfully obvious as we witness drastic changes to the world’s temperatures, climate, and ecosystems.

It’s not just CO2 that is a cause for concern, either.

Methane gas (CH4) is also a significant contributor to climate change, accounting for an estimated 30% of the changes associated with the global climate crisis.

Sadly, this news is anything but new, but there is a glimmer of hope as technologies and policies adapt to meet the ever-growing problems accompanying the manmade emissions released into our atmosphere.

One such strategy presenting solutions for some of the risks associated with GHG emissions is monitoring manmade emissions from space. Satellites equipped with advanced payloads and sensors are able to detect, measure, and monitor emissions at the source or existing freely in the atmosphere, providing valuable insights to users on the ground and enabling them to strategize and make changes to reduce impacts.

GHGSat, a global leader in high-resolution remote sensing, is on a mission to monitor GHG emissions from space and advance the process of global decarbonization. The mission aims to help governments, businesses, and regulators optimize operational performance and meet the changing standards for global emissions.

Below, we outline how GHGSat continues to build on its mission and successes and dive into some of today's newest and most exciting updates.

How Are Emissions Measured and Monitored from Space?

Before we dive deeper into GHGSat and its mission, let's quickly look at how space-based services advance our knowledge and understanding of GHG emissions and the climate crisis at its core.

A Brief Overview of Emissions Monitoring from Space

As sunlight passes through the Earth’s atmosphere, light interacts with gas molecules in unique ways. Gas molecules reflect and absorb light, leaving a distinctive signature similar to a human fingerprint. Using satellites equipped with specialized, high-resolution sensors, we are able to measure the amount of GHGs between the sensors and the earth's surface - providing a detailed picture of the current state of our atmosphere.

How GHGSat Aims to Decarbonize Our Planet

“If we can measure emissions, we can manage them too.”

Founded in 2011, GHGSat set out on a mission to decarbonize our planet using some of the world’s most sophisticated climate technologies. To date, the company has focused primarily on measuring methane emissions, which are responsible for approximately 30% of rising global temperatures.

Satellites in the GHGSat constellation are equipped with patented sensor technology called imaging interferometers. These sensors merge multiple light sources to create an interference pattern, enabling the constellation to measure methane emissions down to the site level across the Earth’s surface.

Today, the capabilities of the GHGSat constellation remain unrivaled, making GHGSat the only existing service with such abilities.

While the GHGSat constellation is optimized for methane emissions, it also has the ability to measure and monitor CO2 emissions - with recent updates to the constellation that will advance carbon monitoring capabilities significantly.

Below, we outline a few of GHGSat’s Case Studies to see how the company’s services and technologies make meaningful impacts on the global climate crisis.

GHGSat’s Proven Emissions Detection Capabilities

Methane Emissions Detected from a Landfill in Pakistan

A 52-hectare landfill in Lahore, Pakistan, began operations in April 2016. Approximately 90% of the waste generated in Lahore is moved to the Lakhodair Landfill, which is designed for “controlled” waste removal. However, the site is rapidly reaching capacity, and in October 2020, just two weeks after the launch of GHGSat’s Iris satellite, a methane plume was detected from the site. The event demonstrates just how quickly and efficiently the GHGSat constellation can detect site-level methane emissions from space.

Observing Methane Emissions from a Coal Mine in Khazakstan

In October 2020, methane emissions from a coal mine in Ekibastuz, Kazakhstan, were detected for the first time with the GHGSat constellation. Two emissions captures were recorded at 12,000 kgCH4/hr and 15,553 kgCH$/hr, respectively. The observations came at a time when countries are being urged to reduce methane emissions from operations - with goals to reduce global methane emissions by 30% by 2030. The emission captures made by the GHGSat constellation demonstrate how high-resolution sensors in space can further our understanding of operational emissions and reliably monitor progress moving forward.

Monitoring Emissions from Gas Pipelines in Trinidad and Tobago

NGC, a state-owned company responsible for natural gas operations in Trinidad and Tobago, owns and operates around 1000km of onshore and offshore natural gas pipelines. These pipelines are traditionally monitored by aerial surveillance or on-ground inspections - both of which are time and resource-intensive. To overcome these challenges, NGC employed radar satellite services from Cosmic-Eye and emissions data from GHGSat to gain a deeper understanding of methane emissions and leaks at the source.

GHGSat monitored 12 industrial facilities across NGC’s infrastructure, and since GHGSat can detect methane leaks down to the site level, it was able to provide reliable emissions data for the locations. Around 30% of GHGSats observations detected methane emissions from 5 different oil and gas sites. The mission showed how satellite monitoring can detect methane emissions and potential leaks with a high level of accuracy, and NGC will continue to monitor its facilities from space. Read more here.

Spire Global Satellite Launch to Support GHGSat Missions

Last weekend, Spire Global, a leading provider of global spaced-based data, analytics, and space services, successfully launched 11 satellites into orbit on the SpaceX Transporter-9 mission from the Vandenberg Space Force Base.

Three of the eleven satellites launched into orbit carry payloads that will monitor greenhouse gases for GHGSat missions, with one being the first-ever commercial CO2 sensor. The groundbreaking and innovative CO2 sensor will revolutionize carbon emissions monitoring, boasting high-resolution precision and independent data collection. The sensor can pinpoint carbon emissions from site-level facilities like power plants, steel mills, and cement works, which current orbital satellites are not designed for - breaking into some of the world’s most emissions-heavy industries.

Although many operators have Continuous Emissions Monitoring Systems (CEMS) in place, independent verification of the sites will improve the ability to report emissions and assure investors of progress. Alternatively, high-resolution carbon emissions data will help on the national and international levels, providing governments and world organizations with data that can be used in the global carbon trading market.

In a recent statement, Stephane Germane, CEO at GHGSat, said,

“Our high-resolution satellites helped put methane - a greenhouse gas that was out of sight and out of mind – at the top of the climate agenda. Now, our goal is to harness this experience and change the conversation around CO2. With regulators, investors, and the public increasingly holding companies to account for both their direct and indirect emissions, there is little doubt that better CO2 data is needed… Trusted, independent data will help incentivize industry to manage its emissions effectively. It will ensure that climate policies are well-founded. Above all, it will help all of us stay on track to achieve Net Zero by 2050.”

To learn more about Spire’s latest launch and the capabilities provided to GHGSat, you can view the following resources.

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