Using AI, satellites and algorithms to map methane

Every year, our planet gets hotter because of greenhouse gas pollution. In fact, 2023 was the hottest year on record, and the last ten years have been the hottest years since 1850. Reducing this warming is essential to decreasing the risk of wildfires, drought and other extreme environmental events, and results in cleaner air and healthier communities. Today, we’re announcing a partnership with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) that combines our science and technology to reduce methane emissions. This is one of the most powerful, short-term actions we can take to reduce warming.

Methane from human sources is responsible for about 30% of global warming today, and a big contributor of methane in the atmosphere comes from extracting fossil fuels, like oil and gas, from the Earth. By powering methane detection algorithms with Cloud computing and applying AI to satellite imagery to identify oil and gas infrastructure around the world, our goal is to help EDF quantify and trace methane emissions to their source. With this information, energy companies, researchers and the public sector can take action to reduce emissions from oil and gas infrastructure faster and more effectively.

How satellites will help us spot methane from space

EDF’s new satellite, MethaneSAT, will map, measure and track methane with unprecedented precision, offering a comprehensive view of methane emissions. Launching in early March on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, MethaneSAT will orbit the Earth 15 times a day at an altitude of over 350 miles. It will measure methane levels in the top oil and gas regions in the world for regular analysis. MethaneSAT is highly sophisticated; it has a unique ability to monitor both high-emitting methane sources and small sources spread over a wide area. To calculate the amount of methane emitted in specific places and track those emissions over time, EDF developed algorithms powered by Google Cloud in collaboration with scientists at Harvard University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and its Center for Astrophysics, and scientists at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

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