A multicolored methane plume signal superimposed over Tehran, Iran.

A methane plume 3 miles long (4.8 km) seen in the atmosphere over Tehran, Iran was traced back to a major landfill by NASA's EMIT experiment on the International Space Station. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Methane emissions from landfills will be surveyed by a NASA science instrument in the middle of a new project to track the greenhouse gas.

The new project, led by the nonprofit group Carbon Mapper, will use data collected from the International Space Station by NASA's EMIT experiment and other NASA science instruments to track methane.

By establishing a baseline assessment of waste sites across the planet, and determining which sites emit methane at high rates, the initiative can help decision-makers reduce the concentration of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Climate change signs can be seen from space.

There is limited actionable information about methane emissions from the global waste sector, according to Carbon Mapper CEO Riley Duren. It's important to understand high-emission point sources from waste sites.

Methane is 80 times more powerful in trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane doesn't last as long in Earth's atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but it has a lifetime. Reducing methane emissions could have an immediate effect.

The waste sector contributes 20% of human-caused methane emissions and is one of the main focuses of the mission.

"New technological capabilities that are making these emissions visible, and therefore actionable, have the potential to change the game, elevating our collective understanding of near term opportunities in this often overlooked sector," Duren said.

A survey of over 1,000 managed landfills across the United States, Canada, and other countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia will be conducted by the Carbon Mapper project.

The data will be collected using aircraft-based sensors, which were developed at NASA's JPL.

The project will use methane data from the International Space Station to study the mineral content of the planet's major dust-production regions.

Methane was spotted from over 50 so-called "super-emitters" in Central Asia, the Middle East and the United States.

Robert Green, the EMIT principal investigator at JPL, said in the NASA statement, "NASA JPL has a decade-long track record of using airborne images to make high-quality observations of methane point source emissions." The same technology has been used in a spaceborne instrument to collect information on methane sources from the ground.

The Carbon Mapper team will use satellites to survey around 10,000 landfill sites around the world after their first year. The Carbon Mapper is going to be launched in late 2023.

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