Friday, April 12, 2024

MethaneSAT to monitor cow gas from space

Neal Wallace
A few times a month satellite will pass over NZ and monitor emission trends from at least two of its main dairy areas.
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New Zealand’s agricultural methane emissions are to be monitored from space following the recent launch of dedicated satellite.

MethaneSAT is primarily designed to monitor methane leaks from the fossil fuel industry but the agricultural programme, which will measure global emissions from livestock and rice production, will be run from NZ.

Once or twice a month the satellite will pass over NZ and monitor methane emission trends from at least two of our main dairy areas.

Initially Waikato and Canterbury will be the focus, but if topography is not an issue, Taranaki and Southland will be included. 

The science leader of the agricultural programme, Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher from NIWA, said each day MethaneSAT will measure methane emissions from 30 targets around the world, of which four or five will be agricultural.

Each target will be measured as 200km square block using precision, high spatial resolution technology.

The satellite will make one or two passes a month over NZ’s largest dairy areas.

Mikaloff-Fletcher said the satellite will measure methane levels between the ground and the top of the atmosphere, detecting as few as two parts of methane per billion when averaged over a 1km spatial resolution.

“We have the opportunity to be the first team to develop and prove this capability worldwide,” Mikaloff-Fletcher said.

She stressed it was not a case of big brother spying on the agricultural sector but using a precision tool to monitor changes in methane emissions.

“The last thing we want is for anyone to think we are spying on cows.”

NZ will be test case for the satellite performance and the accuracy of the technology, providing the perfect test ground because of a greenhouse gas profile that is weighted towards methane, and its world-class greenhouse gas measurement and modelling capability. 

“We will have a field campaign in New Zealand to measure methane emissions at the surface and from aircraft to test this capability.”

She said once validated in the next three to four weeks, the satellite will provide timely assessments on the effectiveness of new methane reduction policies or technology.

The agricultural programme is a collaboration between NIWA, Landcare Research, University of Waikato and Victoria University of Wellington, and the United States-based Harvard University, Environmental Defence Fund, and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

It is funded by the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment and RocketLab. The University of Auckland’s Space Institute is establishing and operating mission control for the satellite.

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