Google partners with Environmental Defense Fund to launch methane mapping satellite

Google Partners with Environmental Defense Fund to Launch Methane Mapping Satellite

Google has announced a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund to launch a satellite aimed at monitoring global methane emissions. This satellite, which is set to orbit the Earth 15 times daily at an altitude of 300 miles, represents a significant step forward in the tech giant’s environmental initiatives.

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that significantly contributes to global warming, is primarily released through agricultural practices, waste management, and notably, the oil and gas industry.

Leveraging Google’s advanced artificial intelligence technologies, this collaboration aims to process the satellite-collected data and yield a comprehensive methane map; an initiative that targets the pinpointing of worldwide methane leaks in oil and gas infrastructure. Governments, regulators, as well as environmental agencies will receive invaluable data from this effort. Although Google affirms its stance against directly notifying companies accountable for major leaks—it intends to make such information publicly available: a move that could potentially precipitate regulatory actions.

Part of a larger initiative to tackle methane emissions, which currently lack an internationally unified regulatory framework, this endeavor aims for comprehensive action. Proposing measures that mandate repairs of leaks in the oil and gas sector, as well as impose a flaring ban on coal industries by 2025, the European Union is actively stepping towards mitigating these damaging pollutants.

Existing efforts to monitor methane, including the launch of the European Space Agency’s Tropomi satellite in 2017, however, challenges persist – data gaps emerge due to cloud cover and difficulty arises in detecting diffuse sources such as agricultural emissions. Google’s project, an ambitious venture aiming not just for a mere complement of these tools but also to fill those gaps—to provide unparalleled consistency and comprehensiveness in data coverage.

The alarming doubling of methane levels over the last two centuries, with 60% attributable to human activities, underscores the importance of such monitoring. Agriculture – specifically livestock farming – significantly contributes to this rise; a fact emphasized by estimates from The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that one cow alone could emit between 154 and 264 pounds of methane each year.

Satellites offer a robust mechanism to identify major sources of emissions; however, they still face challenges in detecting smaller and more diffuse contributors. Google and the Environmental Defense Fund’s initiative signify an essential step forward in environmental monitoring: it amalgamates technology with environmental science to address our era’s most urgent issue—climate change.


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