Monitoring Methane with MethaneSAT and Google AI

The Environmental Defense Fund is monitoring methane with MethaneSAT and Google AI.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Environmental Defense Fund is monitoring methane with MethaneSAT and Google AI. Image: Unsplash

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The Environmental Defense Fund is monitoring methane with MethaneSAT and Google AI.

Over recent years, Google has played a vital role in integrating sustainable elements across its services. In 2021, the company revealed plans to highlight more eco-friendly choices for users on platforms like Maps, Travel, Search, and Nest. Building on this commitment, in 2022, Google Maps introduced a feature allowing users to locate electric vehicle stations equipped with fast chargers directly within the app.

In 2023, the company added three sustainable tools to its Google Maps to help map rooftop solar potential, air quality and pollen. The tools used by Google’s artificial intelligence, machine learning, environmental data, and aerial imagery provide more environmental information.  

Now, Google has taken its sustainability efforts even further by working with MethaneSAT, a satellite that will be launched into space, circle the earth 15 times a day at an altitude of over 350 miles, and help identify methane sources across the globe. The supercomputer-powered AI system can calculate methane emissions in specific locations and track those pollutants as they spread in the atmosphere. The satellite can monitor both high-emitting methane and small sources spread over a wide area.

EDF, MethaneSAT and Google AI

The goal of the MethaneSAT satellite is not only to pinpoint the methane sources but also to make this information publicly available to stakeholders around the world. Google and the Environmental Defense Fund will provide cloud and mapping services, making processing, accessing, and visualizing these points faster and more actionable.

Putting MethaneSAT and Google AI together improves its global oil and gas infrastructure database so emission data for specific regions can be precisely traced back to identified facilities. Much like how Google Maps can identify road names and street signs, this new MethaneSAT and Google AI program will be able to tag points like oil storage containers. These images will be combined with the Environmental Defense Funds’ information about oil and gas infrastructure to locate where the emissions are coming from.

With MethaneSAT and Google AI information, energy companies, researchers, and the public sector can take action to reduce emissions more efficiently and effectively. Additionally, the information they gather is important for anticipating and mitigating emissions in oil and gas infrastructure that is generally most susceptible to leaks.

Why monitoring methane is important.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with a much higher heat-trapping potential over a shorter time frame than carbon dioxide. Methane emissions from various sources, including agriculture (livestock digestion, rice cultivation), landfills, and fossil fuel extraction (natural gas leaks), contribute significantly to global climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, methane concentration in the atmosphere is currently around two-and-a-half times greater than its pre-industrial levels, and these numbers continue to rise.

Reducing the impacts of methane and the amount of methane released into the atmosphere is important to decrease the risk of wildfires, drought, and other extreme environmental events. Reducing methane emissions will also have significant impacts on human health.

Despite the massive amounts of methane emissions released into the atmosphere yearly, tracking the pollutant and pinpointing the exact location is often difficult. MethaneSAT and Google AI, and the Environmental Defense Fund are all helping bridge this gap by creating new technologies that can help reduce methane emissions.

Google’s sustainable efforts are significant in creating a cleaner and healthier planet for future generations. Their methane monitoring efforts are just another thing to add to their impressive environmental repertoire toward their goals of mitigating the effects of climate change.

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