Satellites and Simulations Track Missing Methane

Methane-emission estimates are probably too low; the European Space Agency is spending €45 million to fix that

3 min read
Cows standing in a field.
Do You Smell Something? A satellite might determine whether cattle or oil and gas wells are the bigger climate culprits.
Photo: iStockphoto

Methane emissions from oil and gas extraction, herding livestock, and other human activities in the United States are likely 25 to 75 percent higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently recognizes, according to a meta-analysis of methane emissions research published recently in Science. While experts in remote sensing debate the merits of this and other recent challenges to the EPA’s numbers, definitive answers are already on order via a high-precision Earth observation satellite to be launched next year.

The intensifying methane emissions debate has profound implications for climate and energy policy. Natural gas consumption is rising, and methane’s global warming impact is more than 30 times as much as that of carbon dioxide, molecule for molecule, and second only to carbon dioxide’s in today’s net climate impact.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions
An illustration of grouped icons.
Greg Mably


Keep Reading ↓Show less