Carbon Mapper Reflects on a Year of Milestones

A year ago, Carbon Mapper, a new non-profit, launched a pioneering public/private coalition to help improve the understanding of, and accelerate reductions in, global methane and CO2 emissions through a growing system of aircraft and satellite observations. The unique partnership comprises Carbon Mapper, Planet, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the State of California, University of Arizona, Arizona State University (ASU), and RMI, with support from High Tide Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Grantham Foundation—among others.

Since then, the necessity to act on methane domestically and internationally has taken center stage. Carbon Mapper has worked closely with coalition members to advance the independent data and insights decisionmakers need to act on methane emissions at the rate and scale required by the urgency of the climate crisis—all while continuing to develop and deploy a constellation of satellites beginning in 2023 to help tackle potent emissions.

“Cutting methane presents a huge opportunity for short-term climate relief and is an essential climate strategy, as the IPCC recently confirmed. But methane still gets overlooked in the conversation; it’s harder to track and there’s a big focus on CO2 emissions,” said Ailun Yang who leads international climate initiatives for Bloomberg Philanthropies. “The coalition is doing the important work of shining a light on methane emissions and exposing super-emitters—sites where large amounts of unreported methane emissions have been detected. Through research and data collection, we’re holding the fossil fuel industry’s feet to the flare, because our findings make it a whole lot harder to tout natural gas as a clean transition fuel without serious investment in capturing and preventing methane emissions.”

This year Carbon Mapper has focused on supporting near-term emissions reduction efforts while also laying the foundation for rapid adoption and action by many more stakeholders when the first satellites in our constellation are launched. Our coalition partners have helped us to achieve these goals in different ways.

Pinpointing a growing number of methane super-emitters
Since 2016, our research team has conducted airborne point source surveys in high oil and gas producing regions in the U.S. using imaging spectroscopy technology to provide precise measurements of methane. Carbon Mapper aerial observations over the past year have included regions in California, Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Gulf of Mexico, Pennsylvania, and New York. These observations have led to tangible mitigation actions by operators while demonstrating that our satellite’s detection limit performance should be sufficient to detect a large fraction of global methane and CO2 point sources around the globe.

Improving the transparency and availability of methane data
With support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, we accelerated the launch of the first version of the Carbon Mapper Data Portal which currently houses the point source emission data from our airborne observations—paving the way for future data from the satellites. Emissions data from 2016 to the present day shines a spotlight on where, when, and how methane is released at the facility scale. It is free, accessible,  and is already being used by regulators, operators, the media, and others to shape science-based actions to mitigate methane.

Generating actionable insights
As Carbon Mapper CEO Riley Duren pointed out during a panel at COP26, “When it comes to tackling emissions, the rocket science is the easy part. It is just as important to tackle missing incentives and institutional barriers.” For this reason, Carbon Mapper has been developing powerful insights that advance our collective understanding of super-emitters, as well as how to mitigate them.

In the oil and gas sector, Carbon Mapper and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) published findings from three years of observations in the Texas Permian Basin revealing that about 30 facilities persistently emitted large volumes of methane over multiple years, and that repairing those leaks could immediately reduce 100,000 metric tons of methane per year.

methane plume from a facility in the Permian Basin.

Additionally, Carbon Mapper scientists were part of a research team that identified ultra-emitters—global oil and gas facilities that are emitting greater than 25 tons of methane per hour in sporadic bursts and are not being counted by existing emissions inventories. By making these invisible sources visible, countries and companies can focus policies and regulations to address these emissions which—if mitigated—would represent the equivalent of taking 20 million vehicles per year off the road.

In the waste sector, Carbon Mapper has been working with RMI to understand opportunities to reduce global methane emissions from landfills and waste dumps and will be publishing a study in summer 2022.

Reinforcing the importance of remote sensing in policy arenas
Carbon Mapper has been actively connecting with key decision makers at influential venues to shine a spotlight on the role remote monitoring and improved climate intelligence globally can play to accomplish near-term methane reductions and advance shared goals such as the Global Methane Pledge. Equally important has been engagement in the U.S. domestically on influential policies—like the proposed EPA Methane Rule—to underscore how a ‘system of systems’ approach to measuring methane can lead to real reductions in the short-term. With a presence at influential events like COP26, collaboration with the media, and briefings with policy makers, regulators, and agencies, we remain committed to elevating the need to gather and act on credible emissions data.

“One year in and it’s clearer than ever that Carbon Mapper is facilitating unlikely but much-needed collaboration and putting the data to work so that people in industry, policy, and other decision roles can access, understand, and act on it,” said Fran Reuland, Senior Associate with RMI’s Climate Intelligence team. “RMI is proud to be a part of the coalition to help translate Carbon Mapper insights into science-based policy recommendations.”  

Advancing the satellite program
Following the launch of our satellite program last year, the engineering teams at JPL and Planet have completed major design reviews and are in the process of building key components of the first two satellites scheduled to launch in late summer and fall of 2023.  

“Planet has been, and continues to be, proud of its role as the satellite developer in the revolutionary satellite program,” said Jeffrey Guido, Mission Director at Planet. “Over the past year, we have added momentum to the technical effort, passed multiple design reviews, deepened partner relationships, and built a go-to-market plan for our new hyperspectral data feed. We are excited about the impact this data will bring in the coming years and the future success of the program.”

Additionally, the core science data algorithms are being tested in the field. For example, our partners at ASU—who are leading the land and ocean science for the satellite program—have been flying their Global Airborne Observatory (GAO) which carries a prototype of the satellite instruments. Earlier this month they took the GAO to the skies, combining airborne observations and surface measurements across Southern Florida to test land and ocean measurement algorithms for the program.

Stay tuned to see what lies ahead
We can’t wait to see what the next year has in store as Carbon Mapper and our coalition partners continue to address emissions in this decisive climate decade. Follow our progress by subscribing to our newsletter and following Carbon Mapper on Twitter and LinkedIn.