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NASA spots methane leak from space for the first time

Los Angeles: In a first, an instrument onboard an orbiting spacecraft has measured the methane emissions from a specific leaking facility on Earth’s surface.

The observation – by the Hyperion spectrometer on NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) – is an important breakthrough in our ability to eventually measure and monitor emissions of this potent greenhouse gas from space.

David R Thompson of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the US said that the leak occurred over Aliso Canyon near Porter Ranch in California.

The Hyperion instrument successfully detected the methane leak on three separate overpasses during the winter of 2015-16.

The research was part of an investigation of the large accidental Aliso Canyon methane release last fall and winter.

“This is the first time the methane emissions from a single facility have been observed from space,” said Thompson.

“The percentage of atmospheric methane produced through human activities remains poorly understood,” he added.

“Future instruments with much greater sensitivity on orbiting satellites can help resolve this question by surveying the biggest sources around the world, so that we can better understand and address this unknown factor in greenhouse gas emissions,” Thompson said.

The research was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.