One of the countries most vulnerable to climate change has also been shown to be a major contributor of methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 80 times more potent during its first two decades in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. .
The 12 highest methane emission rates detected this year by Kayrros SAS occurred in Bangladesh, according to the Paris-based company, one of several specializing in analyzing satellite observations to locate leaks. “It has the strongest sustained broadcasts we’ve seen to date where we can’t clearly identify the source,” said Stéphane Germain, president of GHGSat Inc, who also picked up the plumes.
Bluefield Technologies Inc., which analyzed data from the European Space Agency to identify a large methane plume in Florida in May, also detected concentrations over Bangladesh. “Our analysis shows that Bangladesh has some of the highest methane emissions in the world that can be detected by satellites,” said Yotam Ariel, the founder of the company.
Scientists are just beginning to identify the biggest sources of methane. Observations from space can be seasonal due to cloud cover, precipitation and varying light intensity. Satellites can also have difficulty tracking emissions and discharges at sea in higher latitudes, such as in the Arctic, where Russia has large oil and gas operations. Due to these limitations, existing data is not yet complete on a global scale.
But the shows in Bangladesh are attracting attention. Its low altitude and high population density make it particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events and rising oceans. The country chairs the Climate Vulnerable Forum, whose 48 members represent 1.2 billion people most at risk from climate change.
“We are aware of the problems,” Bangladeshi Environment and Climate Change Minister Shahab Uddin said in an interview. Most of the methane probably came from rice paddies, he said. When farmers flood their fields, bacteria in the waterlogged soil can produce large amounts of gas. “The other source is landfill gas,” said Uddin, released when the garbage breaks down. “We are working to take mitigating action.”
Domesticated livestock, leaks from the oil and gas industry, landfills and coal mines are just some of the human activities that lead to methane emissions, according to the Global Methane Initiative. At least a quarter of current global warming is caused by human-made methane emissions, estimates the Environmental Defense Fund.
Methane concentrations in Bangladesh likely come from a combination of sources, including rice paddies, landfills, leaking natural gas pipes and coal stocks, according to Kayrros. The company uses data from ESA’s Sentinel-5P and Sentinel-2 satellites. He performed a dispersion simulation that takes into account atmospheric conditions such as wind, which can move methane plumes away from their source.
Methane is of particular concern to those working to slow the pace of climate change. The gas is odorless and colorless, making leaks extremely difficult to detect. Reducing accidental emissions from energy infrastructure is one of the easiest fruits to put off, as companies stand to gain from cleanup operations. They lose products that could have been sold and risk damaging their reputation as investors like BlackRock Inc. demand higher standards.
“The methane concentrations that we are seeing in Bangladesh are a signal and deserve to be studied further,” said Steven Hamburg, scientific director at EDF, which plans to launch its own satellite to track methane emissions year round. next. “It will take more work to make reliable quantitative emissions estimates and determine the sources.”
The ability to attribute leaks to individual operators is getting closer as more satellites are launched, providing greater accuracy and more frequent coverage. GHGSat said in February it had tracked methane leaks from at least eight natural gas pipelines and unlit flares in central Turkmenistan, which released up to 10,000 kilograms per hour.
EDF’s PermianMap project, which combines satellite data and other ground observations to attribute and aggregate emissions by operator in one of the world’s most active fossil fuel pools, is a sign of transparency to come. “The ability to attribute methane emissions to an asset level is now there,” said Germain of GHGSat. “The challenge is to increase the frequency of observations with more satellites.”
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