NASA’s EMIT Imaging Spectrometer Surprises Scientists by Spotting Emissions of Methane and Other Greenhouse Gases from Space
The EMIT imaging spectrometer aboard the International Space Station (ISS) has been in operation for over a year, and it has exceeded expectations by detecting point-source emissions of greenhouse gases with surprising proficiency. This comes as a surprise, as detecting methane was not originally part of EMIT’s primary mission, which was to map 10 key minerals on the surface of the world’s arid regions.
EMIT, short for Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation, was launched in July 2022 with the goal of mapping surface minerals in arid regions of the world. However, the instrument has proven its capability to detect methane emissions, identifying more than 750 emission sources since August 2022. This has included small emissions sources in remote locations, as well as persistent emissions over time.
Andrew Thorpe, a research technologist on the EMIT science team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the lead author of a new study published in the journal Science Advances, stated, “We were a little cautious at first about what we could do with the instrument. It has exceeded our expectations.”
The ability to detect methane emissions from space is crucial for identifying and addressing sources of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas that lingers in the atmosphere for about a decade and is up to 80 times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
EMIT has proven effective at spotting emission sources both large and surprisingly small, down to the hundreds of pounds of methane per hour, allowing for the identification of a greater number of “super-emitters” – sources that produce disproportionate shares of total emissions.
Furthermore, EMIT’s observations have shown that it can observe 60% to 85% of the methane plumes typically seen in airborne campaigns, making it a valuable tool for methane detection.
The EMIT mission’s data is available to the public, scientists, and organizations, and has the potential to be a game-changer in the effort to limit climate change. This comes as a valuable tool, especially as it offers a comparatively low-cost, rapid approach to reducing greenhouse gases.
The EMIT mission was selected from the Earth Venture Instrument-4 solicitation under the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, and was developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Its data is now available for use by other researchers and the public at the NASA Land Processes Distributed Active Archive Center.