Learning through Doing

Methane and CO2 examples

We’ve been working with facility operators, industry groups and regulators for several years to share our airborne data and collaborate on mitigation efforts. For methane, this has resulted in an ongoing dialog and collective learning with operators about some of the mechanisms that drive strong point source emissions, as well as a number of cases of successful leak repairs in California informed by our data and confirmed with follow up observations. We are continuing to expand these pilot programs to other regions and sectors in the US and Canada. Here we share some case studies using airborne prototypes of the Carbon Mapper satellites including JPL’s next-generation Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (AVIRIS-NG) and ASU’s Global Airborne Observatory (GAO). Stay tuned for a forthcoming publication summarizing a larger set of methane mitigation success stories.


Natural gas pipeline leak detection and repair


During airborne surveys of California in 2016-2017 with NASA’s AVIRIS-NG instrument, our team detected a number of leaks in low pressure natural gas pipelines in neighborhoods and other populated areas. In each case, we shared our data (methane plume images and coordinates) with the relevant gas utility, which promptly dispatched technicians to the location where they quickly verified and repaired the leaks. Many urban areas have thousands of miles of natural gas distribution pipelines that are currently difficult to survey more often than annually. This illustrates the value of remote sensing in helping alert utilities to potentially hazardous leaks. This example is from a gas leak in a neighborhood in the Los Angeles basin. We have detected and reported similar leaks in other parts of California, New Mexico and Salt Lake City.

Oil well leak detection and repair

In Summer and Fall of 2020, our team analyzed AVIRIS-NG and GAO data to detect a number of leaks at oil and gas production sides in the southern San Joaquin Valley in California. In each case, we shared our data (methane plume images and coordinates) with the relevant operator, which dispatched technicians to the location to confirm and in some cases repair leaks. In the video, methane plumes observed at the same site over several days indicate a persistent leak near an oil production site. The plume is changing direction with the prevailing wind.

Informing landfill gas management

During initial AVIRIS-NG airborne surveys of California in 2016 our team detected some very strong methane emissions at a subset of landfills across the state. We shared our plume images and coordinates with some of the facility operators and local enforcement agencies.

In the example below, one of the landfill operators in southern California confirmed the methane emissions and determined they were due to problems with surface cover and gas capture systems. Over the next year the operator instituted a number of changes that dramatically reduced the methane emissions. Subsequent flyovers confirmed a corresponding reduction in the number of odor complaints for that facility.

Power plant leak detection and repair

In Summer of 2020, our team analyzed AVIRIS-NG aircraft data to identify a persistent methane leak at a natural gas fired power plant in Los Angeles. We notified the operator who confirmed the leak. The operator subsequently reported that leak repairs began in early September and we can see the impact on the methane plume in the last two images of the movie below.


Towards full carbon accounting

Carbon Mapper is designed to track high emitting methane and CO2 point sources which offers the potential to help improve accounting of the total carbon footprint of energy supply chains. The following images of the San Juan coal mine and nearby power plant provides an example of this on a local scale. In this case, methane gas is venting to the atmosphere during coal extraction (right-most inset box). Extracted coal is sent to the power plant, where CO2 is released as a byproduct of electricity generation (left box). In most cases the fuel source (mine) and power plant are not in such close proximity as shown here but this illustrates the general concept.

We also offer a glimpse here of other (land and ocean) applications of this class of imaging spectroscopy for conservation and biodiversity management by Dr Greg Asner and the GAO team.

Mapping coral reef health
in Hawaii

GAO imaging spectroscopy punches through the seawater with sunlight to reveal different coral reef communities on the seafloor in Hawaii.

Mapping forest biodiversity
in Malaysia

GAO tree biodiversity mapping reveals the stark contrast between high-diversity natural forests and monocultures of oil palm plantation trees in Malaysia.

Mapping drought draught impacts in California

GAO imaging spectroscopy sees water in plant canopies, revealing the most vulnerable species during the last California drought.

Mapping biodiversity
in Peru

GAO biodiversity mapping starts with high-quality spectral measurements that are fed into a processing stream with outputs of the richness and abundance of species across this Amazonian landscape.