Unlocking the Scale and Impact of Satellites to Detect and Quantify Methane

Published on: Oct 25, 2023

Since the Global Methane Pledge was launched during COP26 in 2021, there has been growing global awareness of the importance of acting quickly to reduce methane and keep a 1.5°C future within reach. 

During New York Climate Week, Carbon Mapper co-hosted a panel discussion alongside RMI and the Climate Champions team. The discussion brought together experts across industry, government and NGOs to discuss how advanced technologies, like satellites, are quickly evolving and providing opportunities for more comprehensive measurement, monitoring, reporting and verification of global methane emissions.

A growing suite of emissions detecting satellites are soon going to be gathering more of the emissions data necessary to move us toward these ambitious goals. 

Panelists at NYC Climate Week discuss using satellite technology for methane detection and quantification.

Sarah Smith, Program Director of Energy at the Global Methane Hub, kicked off the discussion by underpinning the urgency for action, drawing attention to this summer’s record-breaking heat waves and wildfires. She described methane as “the emergency brake” needed to slow global warming. 

Addressing these challenges involves harnessing the power of emerging technologies, like satellite observing, as well as a collaborative approach from governments, regulators and industry.

“Working together, we can place critical data into the hands of those who can drive change—from civil society groups in Argentina to policymakers in the UK,” Sarah said.

Monitoring greenhouse gasses: A solution from space

Remote sensing has emerged as a game-changer. That’s because these technologies are making emissions visible — and more actionable — at a variety of scales.

Part of our work at Carbon Mapper is using this technology to capture data and insights for key decision makers—providing a science-based approach to methane measurement and mitigation for high emission methane and CO2 sources. 

Riley Duren, CEO of Carbon Mapper, noted that remote sensing satellites and related data capabilities are evolving quickly.

“Remote sensing is a quick way to see a lot of area—it has an undeniable access because of the Treaty of Outer Space,” he said. “Satellites, with their ability to observe large geographical areas, are a crucial tool for widespread methane detection.”

Some types of observations can help support GHG accounting and inventory development at the county and/or regional scales. Riley emphasized that remote sensing capabilities have made major strides in the last five years.

Upcoming satellite missions will not only build on those capabilities, but also help fill existing data gaps at the scale of individual facilities and pieces of equipment. These types of observations are critical to supporting direct mitigation action — like spotting leaks in gas pipelines or unlit flares.

Emissions data from satellites is already prompting action. The satellite and data company Kayrros revealed that two main fossil fuel fields in Turkmenistan had caused more global heating in 2022 than the entire carbon emissions of the UK. 

Guests at the NYC Climate Week event mingle as they enjoy spectacular views from the 64th floor of One World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Claire Wang, Senior Advisor to U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate at the U.S. the Department of State, highlighted this as an example of how satellite observations are helping drive global cooperation to mitigate emissions. Alongside other global partners, her department is working with the country to reduce emissions. Related to these efforts, the president of Turkmenistan launched two initiatives in June aimed at cutting significant methane leaks from the oil and gas sector.

Debbie Gordon, Senior Principal of Climate Intelligence at RMI, drove home the practical implications of using emerging technologies to make methane visible. 

Recounting a time when bubble-soap was a method to detect pipeline leaks, she highlighted the immense strides made in the field so far and the potential that still lies untapped. Debbie noted that satellite data can help us prioritize effective mitigation opportunities on the ground — many of which are cost effective.

“We must blend better data from on-the-ground operations with top-down intelligence from satellites to get a more complete view of the methane challenge in priority sectors,” Debbie said. “This approach will create smarter tools for operators, financiers, and regulators.” 

Building trust and transparency in satellite data

As satellite data is used more frequently, transparency and access to the data are both critical to help ensure we are accurately accounting for emissions in key industries like oil and gas.

Remote sensing data will help shed light on discrepancies between emissions that are reported and those that are detected. This can lead to hesitations in data transparency.  

Antoine Halff, Chief Analyst and Co-Founder at Kayrros, believes change is on the horizon. He sees a future where transparency becomes the norm, driven by growing interest from the regulatory, governmental, and financial sectors for accurate methane tracking and transparent data sources.

“Assessing methane fees, methane liabilities, methane taxes—all of that is going to be done using monitoring satellites, at least in part—extracting value for different, differentiated, camps,” Antoine said.

In addition to transparency, building the capacity to use and understand the data is critical. This is especially true in areas like the Global South, said panelist Jonathan Banks, Global Director of Methane Pollution Prevention at Clean Air Task Force.

“We have to help people understand how to use this data—to access it and how to leverage it,” he said. “Getting more scientists from the Global South engaged in the work that’s being done is going to be a critical aspect of that capacity building.”

Jonathan also highlighted the need for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to provide clearer guidelines on integrating satellite data into national strategies.


Panelists from left to right included Antoine Halff, Chief Analyst and Co-Founder at Kayrros, Jonathan Banks, Global Director of Methane Pollution Prevention at Clean Air Task Force, Debbie Gordon, Senior Principal at RMI, Claire Wang, Senior Advisor to U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry at the U.S. Department of State, Riley Duren, CEO of Carbon Mapper, Sarah Smith, Program Director – Energy at Global Methane Hub, and Henrique Bezerra, Oil and Gas Methane Reduction Manager at the Climate Champions Team and discussion moderator.

Panelists pointed to the need for a globally-applicable measuring, monitoring, reporting, and verification (MMRV) framework—a topic that was also recently explored at the first ever White House Methane Summit in July. This would help establish minimum criteria, independent verification, and increased transparency for many industry, NGO, and international government initiatives to quantify emissions throughout the oil and gas supply chain. 

As we head into COP28 this December, efforts to effectively leverage remote sensing technologies are well underway. This approach will help make emissions more transparent, accessible, and actionable to drive emissions reductions and meet international goals like the Global Methane Pledge.

Check out the Carbon Mapper data portal for transparent and accessible data on strong global methane point sources observed by air and space. We’re excited to continue making methane emissions data actionable and accessible with the launch of our Carbon Mapper Coalition satellites early next year.