Dutch “environmental detective in space” begins the process of searching for greenhouse gases from garbage dumps

Illustration of the Sentinel-5p satellite carrying the Dutch Tropomi instrument, which scans the atmosphere for gases important for climate and air quality.Image by ESA/ATG

Sometimes, landfills emit huge amounts of methane gas. This greenhouse gas is created when organic waste decomposes without coming into contact with oxygen. In recent years, space scientists have succeeded in discovering large methane leaks from barren mountains.

At the Climate Summit in Dubai, the research team – with the Netherlands Institute for Space Research SRON and Canada’s GHGSat – announced that it would expand further. The satellite views are focused on ten garbage dumps spread across three continents, to identify areas measuring 25 x 25 meters where a lot of methane is escaping.

The project’s local authorities can then stop the leak, for example by covering the landfill and capturing the methane. Methane can be used as fuel or it can be burned, which also releases greenhouse gases, but they are less harmful than methane. Organic waste can also be separated so that it can be fermented or fertilized with oxygen.

The measuring device on the satellite monitors the reflection of sunlight on the Earth’s surface. Gases in the atmosphere absorb some of this light, each at its own frequency. The measuring instrument can therefore detect methane plumes.

“Methane is invisible and odorless,” says Bram Masakers of SRON. “We made the methane plume visible, and with it the problem.”

The Casablanca landfill where the satellite detected a methane plume.  Photo: GHGSat/Esri

The Casablanca landfill where the satellite detected a methane plume.Photo: GHGSat/Esri

The satellite’s work contributes to a larger project called LOW-Methane, which aims to reduce methane emissions from waste by 1 million tons per year by 2030. Masakers: “This represents about 2 percent of total global methane emissions from landfills.”

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Methane leaks not only from landfills, but also regularly from coal mines and oil and gas facilities. “This is the low-hanging fruit in the battle against climate change,” says Aldert van Amerongen (also of SRON). “If we address these leaks, we will achieve rapid climate gains with little effort.”

Methane is a greenhouse gas about 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide2. It disappears from the atmosphere very quickly, after more than ten years. In Company2 there Hundreds of years necessary for.

Megan Vasquez

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