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NASA Plans to Spot Greenhouse Gas Super-Emitters

What is the new device that NASA has built to help spot greenhouse gas emitters, how will it work, and how will it prove useful in the global fight against climate change?
Green News
2023-09-01T00:00:00.000Z
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Technology to monitor, manage, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions continues to emerge – with even more to come as NASA has shared a new plan to help detect massive points of excessive GHG emissions.

The new tool developed by NASA, called the Carbon Mapper, will help to determine areas where excess methane and carbon dioxide are being emitted from outer space

What is the new device that NASA has built to help spot greenhouse gas emitters, how will it work, and how will it prove useful in the global fight against climate change?

What is the Carbon Mapper developed by NASA?

The Carbon Mapper, also referred to as the Carbon Mapper Satellite Sensor, is a new device created by NASA that aims to help spot and better understand where greenhouse gasses, carbon dioxide, and methane emissions are being created. Developed and to be deployed in partnership with NASA, Planet Labs, the University of Arizona (ASU), the California Air and Resources Board, RMI, and the High Tide Foundation – the first Carbon Mapper satellite is currently set to launch in 2023.

After being in the works for a decade, this new tool developed by NASA is meant to help support those seeking to further understand the human impact and man-made emissions we have created – and to subsequently help with new ideas on how to reduce these emissions.

The Carbon Mapper plans to accomplish this by offering a program to assist those interested in fully understanding the images to be captured by this new green technology. This new effort to combine the use of space technology and emissions reduction schemes together will mark the first time that JPL and NASA partner with universities, nonprofit organizations, and even an entire state – in this case, California.  

👉 One of the main goals of the new Carbon Mapper developed by NASA is to help pinpoint and reduce the current amount of emissions polluting our atmosphere and ecosystems, as air pollution remains a serious ongoing problem.

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How will the Carbon Mapper work and help fight against climate change?

This new satellite will work thanks to JPL, or the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with high-tech imagery due to extensive research and digital photography technology. More specifically, NASA and JPL will be able to break down the light seen from space into three different colors: red, green, and blue – which will then break down into hundreds of different colors that will allow scientists to depict the different kinds of molecules present in the air.

Currently, there are set to be around 20 satellites to be built and launched into space on behalf of Planet – a company based in San Francisco determined to make all of Earth visible to help make global change, such as by mitigating worldwide emissions.

These satellites developed in conjunction with NASA will make use of 30-meter high resolution image sensors to help detect and subsequently break down light into various colors. 

The Carbon Mapper satellite will be implemented in 3 different phases:

  • Phase 1 will refer to the initial launch of the first two satellites – which are set to be fully operational by the end of 2025.
  • More info is set to come on Phase 2 and Phase 3 following the first launch.

👉 These satellites will be programmed to follow areas where excessive greenhouse gas or carbon emissions are most threatening: such as farmland, urban areas, landfills, power plants, and energy production sites.

Ultimately, the Carbon Mapper satellites will work to collect image-related data that will then be passed on to scientists and researchers to help them in developing new greenhouse gas and carbon emission reduction strategies.

Examples of how these satellites developed by NASA can prove useful include:

  • Helping to find methane leaks that could lead to faster response times
  • Support decarbonization
  • Gain better control of the impact global industrialization has had on the planet 
  • Raise awareness to the excess emissions being created 

In addition to this, the Carbon Mapper satellites will also be able to detect methane and carbon dioxide emissions with up to 80% capacity by using hyperspectral satellite image data. All around, the Carbon Mapper satellites have been given a lot of super-tools and high tech gear to help identify and track emissions.

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What makes the Carbon Mapper by NASA different from previous satellites?

Unbeknownst to most, there are already satellites in our atmosphere that work to spot greenhouse gas emissions from afar – but they aren’t as updated as the new Carbon Mapper satellites by NASA.

Some of these other satellites include the OCO-2 and OCO-3 (both by NASA), the European Space Agency’s METOP-A and TROPOMI, China’s TANSAT, and the GOSAT and GOSAT-2 developed by Japan.

However, these satellites are different from the new Carbon Mapper by NASA as they aren’t able to get good, up-close image data for the area where emissions have been detected.

Think about taking a picture with a camera of a concert from the nosebleed section. The photo from afar probably gives a pretty good overview of the audience in the stadium, but what about when you try to zoom in closer and get a picture of the actual artist performing? The same problem has occurred with previous satellites that have attempted to collect image data to better understand and analyze current greenhouse gas emissions.

The Carbon Mapper is determined to improve the ways in which previous satellites have failed by making use of the new high-resolution 30 m sensors, and by deploying more than one satellite into the atmosphere.

👉 Think of the new Carbon Mapper satellites by NASA to be emanating the same set up as a multi-camera television series. These T.V. shows often set up multiple cameras in order to capture various angles of the actors, so that there are more visual options to play with when it comes to going through the post-production footage in the editing room. The Carbon Mapper satellite plans to do the same, by setting up multiple satellites to be able to capture images of greenhouse gas emissions sites more accurately.

Ultimately, the new satellites by NASA are more capable of detecting super-emitters: such as dangerous landfills, factories, and infrastructures as opposed to previous satellites launched into space that had the same goal in mind.

satellite from earth at sunset

What are the potential consequences of using the Carbon Mapper?

In theory, there are a lot of good things to come out of using a tool such as the Carbon Mapper – such as being able to spot massive greenhouse gas emitters and allowing scientists to aid in developing new ways to improve emission reduction strategies. 

However, there could be some potential downsides to using these satellites that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

For instance, if any one of the multiple satellites fails in space and isn’t able to be retrieved – the efforts for the satellites to reduce emissions might ironically contribute to new pollution. This is more commonly referred to as space junk, which is when objects left in space release harmful chemicals into the atmosphere and contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer. In addition to this, space junk can also deter future satellite or rocket launches from being successful – which can result in excess rocket fuel being emitted into the atmosphere as well.

Another downside of the new plans to spot greenhouse gas emissions with satellites is that while the satellites might be able to recognise massive greenhouse gas emitters – smaller (but still sizable) culprits might go unrecognised. While it is important to identify power plants, landfills, and agricultural sites that are producing an unforeseen amount of greenhouse gas emissions – it is still valuable to target other guilty areas for the health and safety of nearby residents.

Lastly, according to Riley Duran who serves as research scientist at the University of Arizona in Tucson, the new Carbon Mapper scheme they have contributed to is meant to aid in decision making – potentially for lawmakers to help slash emissions.

Our mission is to help fill gaps in the emerging global ecosystem of methane and CO2 monitoring systems by delivering data that are timely, actionable and accessible for science-based decision making.

However, the Carbon Mapper will still only serve as a preliminary step to solving this part of the climate crisis – as even if all of this precise data is provided: governments, people, and businesses all have to do something about it. 

It’s similar to someone saying to someone else that their room is messy. They are bound to do one of two things: be given an incentive to clean up the room, and to leave it as is – while remaining more than well-aware of the mess. The same could be said for the Carbon Mapper, except in this case – over $25 million are at stake for the program to elicit some sort of environmental improvement.

view from inside space shuttle

What other tactics has NASA developed to combat climate change?

The Carbon Mapper is expected to be successful in helping to identify sites where there are massive greenhouse gas emissions being produced, in addition to helping to rectify agricultural land, power plants, and landfills gone awry. 

Is this new group of satellites the only way that NASA has set out to help the environment? 

NASA has demonstrated its desire to help in the fight against climate change for quite some time. For instance, NASA has contributed to:

  • Climate modeling to help predict potential storm patterns and allow for better weather preparedness
  • Previous satellites which also aimed at monitoring emissions from above our atmosphere and help to oversee potential changes in climate and the weather
  • Ice Monitoring to help monitor areas threatened by global warming, such as the Himalayan Glaciers
  • Developing new technologies and ideas for renewable energy that can be employed not only for space research, but across all industries 

However, the group of Carbon Mapper satellites will mark a first time for NASA – a combined effort on behalf of universities, state resources, and nonprofit organizations to pinpoint the biggest culprits regarding climate change thus far.

What about Greenly? 

If reading this article about the new tool developed by NASA to help spot greenhouse gas emissions from outer space has made you interested in reducing your carbon emissions to further fight against climate change – Greenly can help you!

Keeping track of all the new green technologies being developed to aid in the fight against climate change can be exhausting, but don’t worry – Greenly is here to help. Click here to schedule a demo to see how Greenly can point out the best green technologies to be used for your company. 

Greenly can help you make an environmental change for the better, starting with a carbon footprint assessment to know how much carbon emissions your company produces.

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