Copernicus: Sentinel-5P (Precursor - Atmospheric Monitoring Mission)Spacecraft Launch Mission Status Sensor Complement Ground Segment References
Sentinel-5P (or S-5P, or S5P) is an approved LEO pre-operational mission within the European GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security) program — a collaborative effort of ESA and NSO (Netherlands Space Office). The goal is to fill the gap between the current atmospheric monitoring instruments SCIAMACHY on ESA's Envisat satellite and OMI (Ozone Monitoring Instrument) carried on NASA's Aura mission, as these instruments come to the end of their lifetimes, and the launch of the Sentinel-5 mission is planned for the timeframe 2020. Note: The Envisat mission operations ended on May 9, 2012. 1) 2) 3) 4)
Table 1: Copernicus is the new name of the former GMES program 5)
The missions Sentinel-5P (LEO), Sentinel-4 (GEO) and Sentinel-5 (LEO) will be devoted to atmospheric composition monitoring for the GMES Atmosphere Service (GAS). The objective of the Sentinel-5P mission is to provide data delivery (maintain the continuity of science data) for atmospheric services between 2015-2020. The successor Sentinel-5 payload is planned to be flown on a MetOp-SG (Second Generation) mission with a launch in 2020.
At the ESA ministerial Conference in 2008 in The Hague, The Netherlands, the Sentinel-5P mission was defined in the frame of the ESA GMES Space Component Program. This program answers to a joint initiative of the EC (European Commission) and ESA on GMES.
Figure 1: Sentinel-5P (SP5) is a gap-filler mission (image credit: Astrium) 6)
Table 2: Summary of the implementation scenarios of the Atmospheric Composition Sentinels 7)
Figure 2: Launch schedule of the Atmospheric Sentinels; the third Sentinel-5UVNS instrument is expected to be launched after 2030 (image credit: ESA)
Unlike the previous missions (Sentinel-1, Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-3), the Sentinel-4 and -5 will be in the class of "hosted payload" missions embarked on meteorological satellites and will be dedicated to atmospheric composition monitoring for the Copernicus Atmospheric Service. The mission is a single payload satellite embarking TROPOMI (Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument), a pushbroom instrument with four hyperspectral channels covering the spectrum from UV to SWIR. - On Dec. 8, 2011, ESA awarded a contract to Astrium Ltd. (Stevenage, UK) to act as prime contractor for the Sentinel-5 Precursor satellite system. 8) 9)
The satellite uses the AstroBus-L 250 M platform of Astrium and thus draws on the heritage from the SEOSat/Ingenio program of Spain, developed under the control of ESA, and from SPOT-6 and -7, two commercial imaging missions currently under development with Astrium internal funding. Including an ongoing export contract with Kazakhstan using this platform, Sentinel-5p is the 5th mission in the series and can rely on a robust and proven platform design. 10) 11)
Figure 3: Artist's view of the Sentinel-5P spacecraft in orbit (image credit: ESA, Airbus DS) 12)
The mechanical platform consists of a hexagonal structure supporting the platform electrical units and the TROPOMI ICU (Instrument Control Unit), and interfacing to a standard launch vehicle interface ring.
In the baseline solution, the platform equipment is distributed over the opening side panels, thus allowing easy access during integration and in case of on-ground maintenance operations.
The platform electrical/functional allocation uses a well proven classical architecture which is currently implemented in several ESA missions as well as in national and export programs. This proven architecture allows re-use of electronic equipment from several suppliers.
The core of the platform electrical/functional architecture is the data handling housed in two physically separate units, the OBC (On-Board Computer) and the RIU (Remote Interface Unit). The OBC (LEON 3) provides the processing and housekeeping memory functions and is responsible for telemetry and telecommand (TM/TC) handling, on-board time management, system re-configuration and communication with "intelligent" platform and payload units – units which communicate via a data bus. The OBC also manages the interface with the S-band transponder, which provides the RF telemetry, telecommand and ranging link to and from the ground station.
The OBC communicates with other satellite units primarily via two independent, fully redundant MIL-STD-1553B buses. All input/output interfaces to "non-intelligent" units are managed by the RIU.
The spacecraft power conditioning functions are performed autonomously by the PCDU (Power Conditioning and Distribution Unit). For robustness, these functions are implemented without the use of software. A battery and solar array sized to satisfy the mission needs complete the power subsystem.
The thermal subsystem includes heaters that are needed to maintain the thermal environment of the platform. The thermal control loops are controlled by the CSW (Central Software) resident in the OBC.
A COTS (Commercial-off-the Shelf) monopropellant propulsion module is used for orbit maintenance, mounted in the center of the lower floor. The propulsion subsystem is a hydrazine design operating in blow-down mode with 4 x 1 N thrusters configured in two redundant pairs.
The top floor accommodates the instrument and its radiator, as well as the star trackers and the X-band and S-band communication antennas. The instrument is mounted in a canted position, such that its radiator has an unobstructed field of view.
The nominal operational scenario for the payload instrument will always be nadir-pointing in the instrument imaging mode. Measurement data is collected when the SZA (Sun-Zenith Angle) is < 92º. Sun calibration can be performed close to the northern polar region when the sun enters the FOV (Field-of-View) of the sun calibration ports. Further calibration can be performed throughout the remainder of the orbit.
The PDHT (Payload Data Handling and Transmission) subsystem consists of a PDHU (Payload Data Handling Unit) and a set of X-band transmission units. The PDHU stores and handles the data transmitted by high speed links from the instrument. PUS (Packet Utilization Standard) compliant data are sent to the transponders and transmitted to ground.
The spacecraft is 3-axis stabilized, the design provides an optional yaw steering.
Figure 4: Fold-out illustration of the AstroBus-L elements (image credit: ESA)
The main features of the FDIR (Failure Detection, Isolation and Recovery) concept are:
• A robust and qualified design coming from a high level of reuse of the standardized operations and FDIR concept already implemented in SEOSat/Ingenio
• A hierarchical architecture (from unit level to system level) where the goal is to try to recover the observed error on the lowest possible level to maximize the system availability for nominal operations.
This FDIR design guarantees:
• A high level of autonomy for the nominal mission with extended periods of time without ground intervention
• Satellite integrity in case of any failure leading to suspend the nominal mission
• Maximizes the satellite availability and autonomy while preserving a robust and failure tolerant system
• Safe operation of the satellite in case of any credible anomaly
• Geo-location performance within requirements even after a single failure: the 3 Star Tracker Optical Heads ensure that the geo-location requirements are still met with some margin after the loss of one optical head.
Figure 5: Illustration of the Sentinel-5P spacecraft (image credit: ESA, Airbus DS)
EPS (Electrical Power Subsystem): Three deployable solar arrays (5.4 m2) using GaAs triple-junction solar cells, supply 1500 W of average power. The two Li-ion batteries have a capacity of 156 Ah.
RF communications: The spacecraft will be equipped with S-band and X-band communication channels for uplink commanding and housekeeping telemetry downlink and for the downlink of instrument data, respectively. The X-band payload downlink rate is 310 Mbit/s. The onboard mass memory unit has a capacity of 430 Gbit using flash memory technology.
Project development status:
• On October 13, 2017, Europe's Sentinel-5P Earth observation mission will be lofted into space on a Russian rocket from Plesetsk Cosmodrome. About 93 minutes later, the satellite – having separated from the rocket and opened its solar panels – will transmit its first signals. The transmission will indicate that all has gone well with the launch and that the satellite is ready to receive instructions. 13)
- On Earth, engineers at the ground station in Kiruna, Sweden will be watching intently, with their 15 m diameter antenna pointing at the horizon, ready to catch Sentinel-5P's signal as it rises into the sky over the country. - The Kiruna station is part of ESA's global network, and it routinely supports multiple missions such as CryoSat, Integral, the Swarm trio and Sentinel.
Figure 6: Photo of the Kiruna station, located at Salmijärvi, 38 km east of Kiruna, in northern Sweden (image credit: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- At the same time, 2100 km to the south, the team at ESA's mission control center in Darmstadt, Germany, will also be watching closely, because ‘acquisition of signal' will mark the moment they assume control, sending commands and downlinking data to check on the satellite's health and status.
• October 11, 2017: ESA's air-quality mission Sentinel-5P will sift through light from the atmosphere to accomplish its ambitious monitoring goals. The Agency's optics specialists helped to verify its main TROPOMI instrument would operate as planned. 14)
- Sentinel-5P is the first in a series of atmospheric chemistry missions from the European Commission's Copernicus program. It carries a single high-precision optical payload called the TROPOMI (Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument), developed jointly by the Netherlands and ESA. - Its aim is to track gradual changes in the makeup of the atmosphere, providing continuity between past missions such as ESA's Envisat and NASA's Aura and Europe's future Sentinel-4 and -5.
Figure 7: Test grating: Straylight performance verification measurements of a test grating for Sentinel-5P's TROPOMI instrument, carried out in the ESTEC Optics Lab to ensure the delivery of quality measurements of Earth's atmosphere. These gratings are used to split light reflected from the atmosphere so that the spectral fingerprints of trace gases can be pinpointed (image credit: ESTEC Optics Laboratory/ESA)
- Orbiting at 824 km above our heads, Sentinel-5P will map a multitude of trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and aerosols – all of which affect the air we breathe and therefore our health, and our climate.
- The optimal performance of an optical instrument in space always comes down to the combination of its individual components – coatings, filters, lenses and mirrors – in the optical chain. So back during TROPOMI's development phase, ESA's Optics Laboratory tested a number of key instrument elements.
Figure 8: ESTEC optics laboratory angular resolved straylight measurement facility (image credit: ESA, S. Muirhead)
- TROPOMI works by comparing reflected light from Earth's atmosphere with direct sunlight at various wavelengths, from infrared to ultraviolet. It uses diffraction gratings to split this light, allowing it to sift out the spectral fingerprints of its target trace gases.
- The optimal performance of an optical instrument in space always comes down to the combination of its individual components – coatings, filters, lenses and mirrors – in the optical chain. So back during TROPOMI's development phase, ESA's Optics Laboratory tested a number of key instrument elements.
- One of a suite of technical labs at ESA's technical heart in the Netherlands, the Optics Lab focused on verifying controlling unwanted ‘stray light' that might leak from the diffraction gratings. Too much stray light might make trace gas detection impossible. They performed precision measurements of prototype TROPOMI gratings to ensure any stray light remained within permissible bounds.
Figure 9: Sentinel-5P infographic: Mapping the global atmosphere every day, the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite provides high-resolution data on a multitude of trace gases and information on aerosols that affect air quality and climate (image credit: ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• October 4, 2017: As preparations for the launch of Sentinel-5P continue on track, the team at Russia's Plesetsk site has bid farewell to the satellite as it was sealed from view in the Rockot fairing. 15)
• Sept. 25, 2017: Engineers have been at Russia's Plesetsk launch site for a month now, ticking off the jobs on the ‘to do' list so that the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite is fit and ready for liftoff on 13 October. With the satellite now fuelled, the team has passed another milestone. 16)
• Sept. 4, 2017: The Sentinel-5P satellite has arrived in Plesetsk in northern Russia to be prepared for liftoff on 13 October. Built to deliver global maps of air pollutants every day and in more detail than ever before, this latest Copernicus mission will set a new standard for monitoring air quality. 17)
- Sentinel-5P is the first Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring our atmosphere. It follows five other Sentinel satellites already in orbit and delivering a wealth of information about our planet.
Figure 10: Photo of the Sentinel-5P spacecraft arrival in Plesetsk (image credit: ESA)
• August 30, 2017: Today, Sentinel-5P was loaded on the Antonov aircraft that will take this latest Copernicus satellite to Russia to be prepared for liftoff in October. 18)
- Sentinel-5P carries the state-of-the-art TROPOMI instrument to map a multitude of trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and aerosols – all of which affect the air we breathe, our health, and our climate. With a swath width of 2600 km, it will map the entire planet every day. Information from this new mission will be used through the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service for air-quality forecasts and for decision-making.
Figure 11: Inside the cavernous Antonov (image credit: ESA)
• June 22, 2017: The Copernicus Sentinel-5 Precursor (Sentinel-5P) mission is dedicated to monitoring the composition of the atmosphere. Its data will be used largely by the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. The mission will deliver information to monitor air quality, stratospheric ozone and will also be used for climate variables monitoring, and support European policy-making. 19)
- The Sentinel-5P mission will be the first of a series of atmospheric chemistry missions to be launched within the European Commission's Copernicus program. With the current launch window of September 2017 and a nominal lifetime of seven years, Sentinel-5P is expected to provide continuity in the availability of global atmospheric data products between its predecessor missions, SCIAMACHY (Envisat) and OMI (Aura), and the future Sentinel-4 and -5 missions.
Figure 12: Sentinel-5P Astrobus Platform Elements: The various elements that comprise the Sentinel-5P satellite, including the single payload instrument TROPOMI (image credit: ESA)
- Sentinel-5P products will be used by Copernicus Services, namely the Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) or the Climate Change Service (C3S). These services will transform its data into high value information (for instance, forecasts of air pollution over Europe) that can be used by decision-makers to take appropriate actions on environmental policies, from which the well-being and security of EC citizens and future generations depend.
Figure 13: European-scale air quality forecast of ozone: The CAMS (Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service) provides European-scale air quality forecasts for every hour, up to 4 days in advance, supplied by the EURAD model. The maps provided are representative for large scale phenomena, and they cannot reproduce local aspects of air pollution (image credit: CAMS)
• Feb. 6, 2016: The launch service for ESA's Sentinel-5p satellite on the Rockot launch vehicle reached an important project milestone during this week. In the frame of the satellite's test campaign at the facilities of Intespace, Toulouse, Sentinel-5P has been mated for the first time on its dedicated launch vehicle adapter. This adapter system will attach the spacecraft to the Rockot carrier during its travel into space and will eventually release the satellite into the target orbit. 20)
- The mating exercise, the so-called fit-check, aimed at verifying the mechanical and electrical interfaces between the Sentinel-5p satellite, built by Airbus DS in Stevenage, and the launcher hardware, manufactured by the rocketry company Khrunichev Research and Production Space Center. The purpose of a fit-check is ensuring a successful integration of the spacecraft onto Rockot at the launch complex and a check of the umbilical connections between the launcher and its payload. For the Sentinel-5P mission, the fit-check was further used to verify a customized purging system which was integrated into the adapter allowing the satellite customer to flush its contamination-sensitive instrument through the satellite-launcher interface during ground operations.
Figure 14: Sentinel-5P being lowered on the Rockot adapter ..... (image credit: Eurockot)
- The actual attachment of the Sentinel-5P satellite to its launch adapter is by means of a clamp band mechanism developed by Airbus Defence and Space in Madrid (formerly CASA Espacio). The clamp band is applied with high tension along the spacecraft-launch vehicle interface. The release of the satellite in space is achieved by firing pyro charges, which spontaneously open the clamp and hence allow separation. As the flawless functioning of the release is essential for a launch success, it was tested following the mating under recording the induced shock loads levels.
- Fit-check and release shock test have been conducted successfully on February 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in a remarkable team effort by Airbus Defence & Space, the Khrunichev Space Center, European Space Agency and Eurockot.
Figure 15: and mated with the Rockot launch vehicle adapter .... (image credit: Eurockot)
Figure 16: and separated again ..... (image credit: Eurockot)
• July 24, 2015: The Sentinel-5 Precursor platform and the TROPOMI instrument have been integrated together to form the satellite which will be leaving the UK for testing. Airbus DS will deliver the spacecraft to Intespace in Toulouse, France, for final system level testing. 21)
Launch: The Sentinel-5P spacecraft was launched on October 13, 2017 (09:27 GMT) on an Eurockot Rockot/Briz-KM vehicle from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. The Sentinel-5P spacecraft has a launch mass of ~ 820 kg. The first stage separated 2 min 16 sec after liftoff, followed by the fairing and second stage at 3 min 3 sec and 5 min 19 sec, respectively. The upper stage then fired twice, delivering Sentinel-5P to its final orbit 79 min after liftoff. 22) 23) 24) 25)
Orbit: Sun-synchronous orbit, altitude = 824 km, inclination = 98.74º, LTAN (Local Time on Ascending Node) = 13.35 hours, period = 101 minutes, the repeat cycle is 17 days (227 orbits).
A unique feature of the Sentinel-5P mission lies in the synergistic exploitation of simultaneous measurements of imager data from the VIIRS (Visible/Infrared Imager and Radiometer Suite), embarked on the Suomi NPP (NPOESS Preparatory Project) satellite of NASA/NOAA. NASA launched the NPP mission on October 28, 2011. The Sentinel-5P orbit is selected such that it trails behind Suomi NPP by 5 min in LTAN, allowing the Sentinel-5P observation swath to remain within the scene observed by Suomi NPP.
Operational system/service allocations:
• The Sentinel-5P satellite consists of the platform and the TROPOMI payload, the latter is supplied as CFI (Customer Furnished Item) to the spacecraft prime.
• The LEOP (Launch and Early Orbit Phase) ground station network will be used to control spacecraft after launch.
• Svalbard polar Earth station for spacecraft operations and data downlinking.
• The FOS (Flight Operations Segment) function will be performed by ESA/ESOC.
• The PDGS (Payload Data Ground Segment) function will be performed by DLR/EOC (Earth Observation Center), under contract to Astrium Ltd. This involves the development of PDGS to host the missions' ground processors and to distribute the resulting data to the user community.
Table 3: Overview of some mission parameters
Figure 17: Sentinel-5P team set-up (image credit: Astrium)
Note: As of June 2019, the previously large Sentinel5P file has been split into two files, to make the file handling manageable for all parties concerned, in particular for the user community.
• This article covers the Sentinel-5P mission plus the mission status in the period 2020
Mission status and imagery for the period 2020 + 2021 + 2022
• June 23, 2022: Levels of methane, the second most important greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, continued their unrelenting rise in 2020 despite the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 26)
- A team of scientists, from the University of Leeds, have used data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite to pinpoint locations with large surges of methane emissions. These findings were presented during ESA's Living Planet Symposium which took place last month in Bonn, Germany.
- Methane has a mixture of both natural and anthropogenic sources. Around 40% of methane emissions comes from natural sources, while 60% comes from anthropogenic sources such as agriculture, fossil fuel exploitation and landfills.
- One of the largest sources of methane emissions comes from wetlands – an area of land that is either covered by water or saturated with water – yet there is still uncertainty in how they respond to changes in climate and short-term variations, such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.
- The combination of methane's high global warming potential and relatively short lifetime in our atmosphere of approximately nine years, means if we reduce our methane emissions, we can partially mitigate the human impact of climate change on a relatively short timescale – while global emissions of carbon dioxide are reduced.
- In situ methane measurements from 2020 showed the largest annual increase of methane concentrations since the 1980s, with this record surpassed in 2021. The year of 2020 was unique owing to the global pandemic, yet methane concentrations continued to rise despite a reduction in economic activity.
- Anthropogenic emissions of methane have contributed to an additional 23% to the radiative forcing – a direct measure of the amount of Earth's energy budget that is out of balance – in the troposphere since 1750.
Figure 18: Methane growth anomaly. his global map shows the annual increase of methane emissions relative to the global mean annual increase and has been created using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- It is not fully understood what is driving the recent trends in global methane concentrations owing to the uncertainty surrounding the sources and sinks. This is why it is important to monitor changes in atmospheric methane using satellites such as Copernicus Sentinel-5P. The satellite maps a wide range of pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and of course, methane.
- Using observations obtained from Sentinel-5P, the team found that satellite measurements show the same increase of methane as demonstrated in surface measurements. Using the global coverage capability of Sentinel-5P, the team identified regions which showed large increases throughout 2020.
- These regions include South Sudan and Uganda in Central Africa, along with high-latitude northern regions including Canada and Russia. During 2019, emissions related to large positive rainfall anomalies from Sudd wetlands in South Sudan were found to be over a quarter of the growth in global emissions. 27)
- The positive rainfall anomalies over South Sudan and Uganda continued into 2020. In addition to large amounts of precipitation, there was a high rate of dam releases from Lake Victoria resulting in increased water flow into the White Nile which feeds the Ugandan and Sudd wetlands.
Figure 19: The graph shows the monthly mean methane concentrations over South Sudan from January 2018 to January 2021. The dashed lines represent times where there are less Sentinel-5P satellite data available (image credit: Emily Dowd – University of Leeds/ESA)
- The data obtained from Sentinel-5P indicates that 2020 was likely to have been a period of large methane fluxes in these regions. Satellite data was also compared with a chemical transport model called TOMCAT, which simulates methane in our atmosphere.
- In South Sudan, there is a mismatch in the seasonal cycle between the TOMCAT model and the satellite observations, which previous studies have related to the wetlands model used in the study. This implies that wetlands could be a dominant factor in driving the large methane concentrations over South Sudan during 2020.
- In Canada, high concentrations of methane in 2020 are found in the east, where more wetlands are situated. The regions of strong methane growth measured in these satellite observations indicate that wetlands may have been significant contributors to the large rise in methane during 2020, however work using TOMCAT is still ongoing to further explore these findings.
- Emily Dowd, PhD student from the University of Leeds, said, "Copernicus Sentinel-5P observations have shown that global wetlands continue to be a large contributor to the atmospheric methane budget, and it is important that further work is carried out to fully understand how they will respond to changes in our climate."
• May 25, 2022: Earth observation is already capable of supporting national climate action, but there are many more opportunities on the horizon, according to discussions today among leading scientists and policymakers at ESA's Living Planet Symposium being held in Bonn, Germany. 28)
- Last year, at the United Nations COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, almost 200 countries reaffirmed the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2°C. Countries also stepped up their support for adaptation in response to the worsening impacts of climate change.
- To support nations' climate commitments and ambitions under the Paris Agreement, ESA is bringing together both minds and technology.
Figure 20: Supporting the Paris Agreement from Space. The Paris Agreement aims to keep global temperatures well below 2ºC and ideally 1.5ºC relative to the pre-industrial period and reduce climate change vulnerability. Satellite observations are increasingly contributing to national mitigation and adaptation progress to meet these objectives (image credit: ESA)
- Satellites, with their global view, have long provided the evidence used to identify trends and document the state of the global climate system, says atmospheric chemistry scientist Michaela Hegglin of the University of Reading in the UK.
- She has been working with ESA to draw up a roadmap for remote-sensing research in support of the Paris Agreement.
- In particular, Earth observation will contribute to the Agreement's five-yearly review cycles, known as the Global Stocktake, designed to help raise collective ambition and strengthen further climate action.
- However, "it is at the national level where Earth observation can support action, for example in the reporting of emissions, monitoring carbon sources and sinks, such as forests, and providing crucial local information for the adaptation process," Prof. Hegglin.
- Emissions monitoring is the area where space-based remote-sensing is arguably the best developed capacity. With their global view, satellites can be used to detect trends in natural sources of the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide in remote or hard-to-access regions of the world.
- Prof. Hegglin points to the use of satellites for detecting emission hotspots from human activity as a rapidly advancing application.
Figure 21: Supporting national action towards Paris Goals. ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programmes, Simonetta Cheli, talking at the Living Planet Symposium session dedicated to Earth observation supporting national climate action towards Paris Goals (image credit: ESA, Juergen Mai)
- "The Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission and the upcoming Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitoring, CO2M, mission – one of six Copernicus Sentinel Expansion missions that ESA is developing on behalf of the EU – have capabilities to identify and target greenhouse-gas reduction opportunities from oil and gas fields, urban areas and high-intensity energy facilities such as power plants. The information can also be used to assess the effectiveness of related carbon reduction policies."
- The rapidly increasing capability of space-based sensing technology can help validate national reporting of greenhouse-gas emissions and inform inventories of forestry, agriculture, and other land-use changes, especially in developing countries where in-situ measurement networks provide insufficient information.
Figure 22: Earth observation is already capable of supporting national climate action, but there are many more opportunities on the horizon, according to discussions today among leading scientists and policymakers at ESA's Living Planet Symposium being held in Bonn, Germany. Satellites, with their global view, have long provided the evidence used to identify trends and document the state of the global climate system. - In particular, Earth observation will contribute to the Agreement's five-yearly review cycles, known as the Global Stocktake, designed to help raise collective ambition and strengthen further climate action. However, it is at the national level where Earth observation can support action, for example in the reporting of emissions, monitoring carbon sources and sinks, such as forests, and providing crucial local information for the adaptation process (image credit: ESA)
- New methods that ESA is pioneering through its RECCAP-2 project (see also the file:GCP-Reccap2 on the eoPortal) and based on a technique known as inverse atmospheric modelling, can improve estimates of carbon surface fluxes between the atmosphere, land and ocean. The approach uses empirical satellite measurements of greenhouse gases.
- Equipped with this independent data source, agencies could then compare this with national-scale estimates.
- "The new methods pave the way for improving mitigation policy and progress reporting by individual countries to meet their pledges as part of the Paris Climate Agreement," Prof. Hegglin notes.
- These advances are particularly relevant as recent research from ESA's RECCAP-2 project highlights significant discrepancies between models informed by satellite measurements and national inventories relating to land sink estimates and anthropogenic emissions.
- In relation to adaptation, Prof. Hegglin adds, "Satellites provide a wealth of relevant geophysical variables. Although examples exist, adaptation indicators and targets are, as of yet, not clearly defined. Efforts should focus on the co-development of indicators with stakeholders and end users."
- An example is the use of high-resolution land surface temperature based on satellite data, along with canopy cover data to track the effectiveness of urban greening to mitigate the impacts of heatwaves.
Figure 23: ESA's Climate Change Initiative Regional Carbon Cycle Assessment and Processes Phase-2 (RECCAP-2) project supports and accelerates the analysis of regional carbon budgets based on the results of data-driven models and process-oriented global dynamic vegetation models (image credit: Pixabay)
- "Adaptation needs are always locally-specific, hence the emphasis on co-developing applications that use satellite data with policymakers and stakeholders and to integrate other useful sources of information relating to user needs. Only then will climate services truly increase communities' resilience at the local level," says Prof. Hegglin.
- Subject to approval at the ESA Ministerial Conference in November 2022, it aims to respond to the new requirements for Earth observation to support the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, while continuing the research and development of satellite-derived Essential Climate Variables that support the needs of the UNFCCC for systematic observations of the climate system.
• March 21, 2022: Data from the TROPOMI instrument onboard the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite has been used to detect methane plumes over some of Europe's largest methane-emitting coal mines. 29)
- Methane is an important greenhouse gas emitted from natural sources, such as wetlands, as well as human activities including agriculture, wastewater management and fossil-fuel production. Methane is the second most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide yet is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.
- It is important to track and manage fugitive methane emissions, gases that escape or leak unintentionally or through a controlled release from industrial processes, as significant gains can be achieved in limiting global temperature increase by curbing such emissions.
- It is therefore critical to implement policies aimed at reducing methane emissions as a key to combating climate change. This is particularly timely with more than 100 countries signing up to the Global Methane Pledge which aims to limit methane emissions by 30% by 2030, signed during the COP26 at Glasgow last year.
Methane emissions from coal mining
- The coal mining industry contributes significantly to global methane emissions and is responsible for around 33% of all fossil fuel related emissions of methane from 2008-2017. Typically, for underground coal mines, large-scale ventilation systems are used to provide the flow of fresh air underground to help dilute gases such as methane, as well as help regulate the temperature for safe working conditions.
- However, this ‘ventilation air methane' ultimately ends up being released into the atmosphere, thereby acting as a source of fugitive methane.
- According to the European Commission and the European Environment Agency, the top 10 largest methane emitting coal mines in Europe are in Poland. Collectively, these mines released around 282,300 tonnes of methane into the atmosphere in 2020.
- Thanks to methane observations from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, we can now observe regions with enhanced methane concentrations from strong point sources all over the world. Satellite observations are a powerful tool for improving estimates of emission strength, seeing how they change over time and can also help detect previously unknown emission sources.
- Scientists from the University of Leicester have used data – generated by the University of Bremen – from the TROPOMI instrument onboard Sentinel-5P to observe methane concentrations associated with key mining regions across Poland and demonstrate whether the satellite can capture coal mining emissions.
Figure 24: Coal mine clusters. This map shows the clusters of both underground and surface coal mines in Europe. The darker the red, the more coal mines there are in the area. The map uses data from the Global Coal Mine Tracker – a worldwide dataset of coal mines. The data includes operating mines producing one million tonnes per year or more, as well as smaller mines [image credit: ESA (Data source: 'Global Coal Mine Tracker', Global Energy Monitor, January 2022)]
Figure 25: This Copernicus Sentinel-2 image shows us Rybnik, located southwest of Katowice, with several coal mines visible in the nearby surroundings (image credit: ESA, this image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), data processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- The accumulated methane from the area pictured here from 2018 to 2020 (Figure 26) revealed that the largest methane concentrations were concentrated in the Upper Silesian Coal Basin, west of Krakow, a prominent mining region dominated by a cluster of underground coal mines.
- Harjinder Sembhi, Earth Observation Scientist from the University of Leicester, comments, "As some of these mines are in very close proximity to each other, individual plumes are tricky to observe. However, we were able to detect averaged large-scale methane enhancements, approximately 20 parts per billion above background concentrations."
- Hartmut Boesch, Divisional Director of the UK's National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO), adds, "Despite some limitations in satellite data coverage, owing to clouds, we found that the regions of largest concentrations detected by TROPOMI are consistent with the largest emitting mines in Poland as reported by the European Commission emission database."
- Scientific investigations are ongoing to determine the source emission rates associated with these large-scale coal mining methane enhancements observed from TROPOMI which can be complemented by high-resolution sensors such as GHGSat to provide observations for individual sites.
- Claus Zehner, ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-5P Mission Manager, comments, "The Sentinel-5P mission is now being successfully used to demonstrate spaceborne capabilities to support the monitoring of European and international strategies on methane emissions monitoring. The upcoming atmospheric Copernicus Sentinel-5 and Copernicus Carbon Dioxide Monitoring missions will ensure the extension of this capability over a long time period."
- This information will also be a valuable addition to the work of regulatory bodies in designing fast-acting abatement measures that could have a significant and almost immediate impact on mitigating such methane emissions in the near future.
Figure 26: This map shows the averaged methane concentration anomalies detected by the TROPOMI instrument on the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite from 2018-2020 over southern Poland. The pickaxes indicate the positions of the largest underground coal mines (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018-20), processed by the University of Leicester)
• January 20, 2022: The Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha'apai volcano near Tonga in the South Pacific erupted with such force on 15 January that it is thought to be the biggest eruption recorded anywhere on the planet in 30 years. 30)
- Sending tsunami waves across the Pacific, the effects of this underwater eruption were felt as far away as the United States and Japan. Sonic booms from the eruption were heard across the Pacific and as far as Alaska, more than 9000 km away and the shockwave resulted in a noticeable jump in atmospheric pressure around the world.
- The volcano spewed ash, gas and steam 30 km into the atmosphere. Hazardous ash has smothered the island nation of Tonga, causing an unprecedented disaster.
- While Tonga copes with the aftermath, this image illustrates how sulphur dioxide from the eruption is spreading across the planet. Using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission, the image shows the huge plume of sulphur dioxide on 18 January over Australia, more than 7000 km west of the eruption.
- Copernicus Sentinel-5P is dedicated to monitoring air pollution by measuring a multitude of trace gases as well as aerosols – all of which affect the air we breathe.
Figure 27: Sulphur dioxide from Tonga eruption spreads over Australia on 18 January 2022, more than 7000 km west of the eruption (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2022), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• November 10, 2021: High-resolution satellites have detected substantial quantities of methane leaking from adjacent landfill sites close to the center of Madrid, Spain. Using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission combined with GHGSat's high-resolution commercial imagery, scientists from the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research and GHGSat discovered both landfill sites combined emitted 8800 kg of methane per hour in August 2021 – the highest observed in Europe by GHGSat. 31)
- The area was originally identified based on methane hotspot mapping using TROPOMI data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite by researchers at SRON. The GHGSat team then used their satellites to spot methane plumes on 20 August and 13 October 2021, emanating from two landfill sites approximately six km apart, located just 18 km from the center of Madrid.
- The largest source released methane at a rate nearing 5000 kg per hour, with satellite imagery showing a cloud of greenhouse gas drifting towards nearby residences. The cause of the emissions is currently unknown, but data has been shared with the operator.
- The 1999 Landfill Directive requires EU landfill operators to capture gas created by the decomposition of organic material, and either use it for energy generation or burn it off through flaring. According to GHGSat estimations, approximately 350 000 homes could be powered with the methane loss rate of the Madrid landfills.
Figure 28: Photo of the Landfill site near Madrid, Spain (credit: Pixabay)
Figure 29: Methane emissions detected from Madrid landfill by by GHGSat. The image shows the methane emissions from one of the landfill sites in Madrid on 20 August 2021 (image credit: GHGSat)
- Studies now suggest that at least a quarter of human-induced global warming is due to methane, a greenhouse gas around 85 times more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years. European policymakers have pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55%, from 1990 levels, by 2030. GHGSat's observations were made just days after Madrid recorded its joint-highest ever temperature during a heatwave that scorched much of Southern Europe.
- According to the European Union Methane Strategy, published in October 2020, 26% of the continent's methane emissions come from waste. Worldwide, landfills and dumpsites are predicted to account for 8 – 10% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.
- Most landfills in Europe and the US are ‘sanitary' and sealed off from the elements and surrounding environment. In countries across Asia, Africa and South America, however, waste typically ends up in dumpsites open to the elements. These can be around 200 hectares or more in size and receive in excess of 10,000 tons of waste per day. They are known sources of airborne pollution and water contamination.
- GHGSat's satellites have observed landfills releasing large volumes of methane at locations across North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. One site, near Jakarta, Indonesia, was measured emitting 15,900 kg per hour, equivalent to nearly 400,000 kg per hour of carbon dioxide.
Figure 30: Methane plumes were again observed at the Spanish landfill sites in October 2021. The GHGSat image shows the methane emissions from one of the landfill sites in Madrid on 13 October 2021 (image credit: GHGSat)
- Madrid is not alone in having dumps located close to habitations: in April 2021 GHGSat's newest satellite, Hugo, recorded large quantities of methane (approximately 4000 kg per hour) coming from the 73-hectare Matuail Landfill in south Dhaka, Bangladesh – a city of nearly 22 million people.
- Measuring emissions consistently is a challenge for landfill operators and authorities. GHGSat and SRON work together to address the challenge by combining Tropomi data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite with GHGSat's unique fleet of high-resolution satellites able to pinpoint the source of even small leaks.
- Previous results of the collaboration have included oil and gas operations in Turkmenistan, coal mines in China, as well as several other landfills. Ilse Aben from SRON comments: "This new finding again demonstrates the strong synergy between TROPOMI's global coverage and high-resolution instruments like GHGSat and shows how we can spot methane emissions everywhere around the world including in Europe."
- Stephane Germain, CEO of GHGSat said, "Thanks to our expanding fleet of satellites, we now provide data that would have been impractical and expensive to collect just a few years ago. With this information, operators and communities can build business cases for capturing landfill gas, providing new sources of revenue while mitigating their impact on climate. In addition, our data can help countries audit their climate impacts and more accurately monitor the progress of their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement."
• September 30, 2021: Australia's deadly bushfires in the 2019-2020 season generated 700 million tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – triggering vast algal blooms in the Southern Ocean. Using satellite data, two new studies published in Nature prove how satellites can illuminate the complicated ways in which Earth is responding to climate change in an era of worsening wildfires. 32)
- Australia is no stranger to bushfires, however the 2019-2020 season proved to be unprecedented. As of March 2020, the fires burned an estimated 18.6 million hectares (or 186 000 km2) destroying over 5000 buildings and killed over 400 people. It was estimated that more than a billion animals perished from the bushfires, with several endangered species facing the risk of total extinction.
- Based on a new paper, published in Nature, the extreme bushfires across southeast Australia released 715 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air – more than double the emissions provided by fire emission inventory datasets. 33)
- In southeast Australia, the fires were both intense and extensive. As much as 74,000 km2 of mostly eucalyptus forest, roughly 2.5 times the area of Belgium, was affected. Previous estimates from global inventory datasets of wildfire emissions based on satellite fire data and modelled quantities of standing biomass suggested that the fires released on average 275 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between November 2019 and January 2020.
- However, the new analysis indicates that this figure was a gross underestimate. Using data from the Tropomi instrument on board the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, the research team were able to obtain a more accurate estimate of the emissions.
- While Tropomi doesn't directly measure carbon dioxide, the instrument takes daily snapshots of carbon monoxide levels in the atmospheric column beneath it. The research team used these data to calculate a more detailed estimate of the carbon monoxide emissions from the bushfires, which they used as a proxy for calculating carbon dioxide emissions.
- The team was able to then conclude that the bushfires released 715 million tons in just three months. This is twice the amount of carbon dioxide that had previously been suggested by fire inventory estimates and surpasses Australia's normal annual bushfire and fossil fuel emissions by 80%.
- Ivar R. van der Velde, an environmental scientist at the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, in Utrecht, and at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, commented, "The Tropomi data of atmospheric carbon monoxide concentrations provide us with invaluable information on all kinds of wildfires around the world. When the Australian fires raged in December 2019, we immediately sense that there was very interesting science hidden in the vast amount of Tropomi data.
- "The disastrous impact the fires had on the local population and local air quality was already known. What we didn't know yet was the magnitude of the pollutants and greenhouse gases emitted by the fires."
Figure 31: This image uses information from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission and shows the average carbon monoxide concentrations from 1 November 2019 to 31 January 2020. Carbon monoxide is commonly associated with traffic, but the concentrations here are due to the bushfires. Naturally, once in the air, it can cause problems for humans by reducing the amount of oxygen that can be transported in the bloodstream (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-20), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Figure 32: Aerosol spread from Australian fires. Ferocious bushfires have been sweeping across Australia since September, fuelled by record-breaking temperatures, drought and wind. The country has always experienced fires, but this season has been horrific. A staggering 10 million hectares of land have been burned, at least 24 people have been killed and it has been reported that almost half a billion animals have perished. The fires have not only decimated the land, but they have also had a serious effect on air quality (video credit: the video contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019–20), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
• September 16, 2021: World governments agreed in the late 1980s to protect Earth's ozone layer by phasing out ozone-depleting substances emitted by human activities, under the Montreal Protocol. The phase out of these substances has not only helped protect the ozone layer for future generations but has also protected human health and ecosystems by limiting the harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching Earth. On 16 September, the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, we take a closer look at this year's ozone hole. 34)
- The ozone layer in the atmosphere protects Earth from potentially harmful ultraviolet radiation. In the 1970s, scientists discovered that the ozone layer was being depleted.
- Atmospheric conditions of ozone vary naturally depending on temperature, weather, latitude and altitude, while substances ejected by natural events such as volcanic eruptions can also affect ozone levels. However, these natural phenomena couldn't explain the levels of depletion observed and it was discovered that certain human-made chemicals were the cause.
- Ozone depletion is greatest at the South Pole. This depletion creates what is known as the ‘ozone hole.' From August to October, the ozone hole increases in size – reaching a maximum between mid-September and mid-October.
- The Montreal Protocol was created in 1987 to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of these harmful substances, which is slowly leading to its recovery. Some of the ozone-depleting substances emitted by human activities remain in the stratosphere for decades, meaning that ozone layer recovery is a very slow, long process.
- The Montreal Protocol demonstrates the power of international commitment to protecting our environment. Satellite data provide a good means to monitor changes of the ozone layer on global scale. Ozone measurements from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite extend the European time-series that started in 1995 with the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME).
Figure 33: Map of the ozone hole over the South Pole on 16 September 2021. The 2021 ozone hole evolution appears to be similar to last year's size, currently around 23 million km2 – reaching an extent larger than Antarctica. According to CAMS, the 2021 ozone hole has considerably grown in the last two weeks and is now larger than 75% of ozone holes at that stage in the season since 1979.
- These data can be used for long-term trend monitoring and provide ozone measurements just three hours after measurement time to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), operated by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) for ozone monitoring and forecasting.
Figure 34: Size of the 2021 ozone hole. The 2021 ozone hole evolution appears to be similar to last year's size, currently around 23 million km2 – reaching an extent larger than Antarctica (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2021), processed by DLR)
The ozone hole today
- Data from Sentinel-5P was used to show that last year's ozone hole over the Antarctic was one of the largest and deepest in recent years. The hole grew rapidly from mid-August and peaked at around 25 million km2 on 2 October. The large ozone hole was driven by a strong, stable and cold polar vortex which kept the temperature of the ozone layer over Antarctica consistently cold. This was in stark contrast with the unusually small ozone hole that formed in 2019.
- This year, the ozone hole's evolution appears to be similar to last year's size, currently around 23 million sq km – reaching an extent larger than Antarctica. According to CAMS, the 2021 ozone hole has considerably grown in the last two weeks and is now larger than 75% of ozone holes at that stage in the season since 1979.
- Antje Inness, a senior scientist at ECMWF, commented, "This ozone evolution is what we would expect given the current atmospheric conditions. The progress of the ozone hole over the coming weeks will be extremely interesting."
- ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager, Claus Zehner, added, "Sentinel-5P ozone measurements are a key contribution to global ozone monitoring and forecasting in the frame of the Copernicus program.
- "The monitoring of the ozone hole over the South Pole must be interpreted carefully as the size, duration and the ozone concentrations of a single hole are influenced by the local wind fields, or meteorology, around the South Pole. Nevertheless, we expect a closing of the ozone hole over the South Pole by the year 2050."
- Satellites orbiting above are the only way of measuring the ozone's recovery and change in a consistent and systematic manner. Most ozone-measuring satellites, such as the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission, provide a value for the amount of ozone in a column – meaning the total amount of ozone in a column of air from the ground to the top of the atmosphere. In conjunction, profiles, which show concentrations at different altitudes, are also needed to gain the full picture.
Figure 35: Altius (Atmospheric Limb Tracker for Investigation of the Upcoming Stratosphere) will deliver high-resolution profiles of stratospheric ozone and other atmospheric trace gases (image credit: QinetiQ Space)
- The upcoming Atmospheric Limb Tracker for Investigation of the Upcoming Stratosphere (Altius) mission, set to launch in 2025, will deliver profiles of ozone and other trace gases in the upper atmosphere to support services such as weather forecasting, and to monitor long-term trends.
- Altius carries a high-resolution 2D imager that observes ozone from side-on, at Earth's limb or atmospheric boundary. This limb-sounding technique allows ozone to be viewed at different altitudes, thereby providing vertical profiles of different ozone concentrations. As well as ozone, Altius will also deliver profiles of other trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, water vapor and aerosol information.
• March 15, 2021: In early 2020, data from satellites were used to show a decline in air pollution coinciding with nationwide lockdowns put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. One year later, as lockdown restrictions loosen in some countries and regular activity resumes, nitrogen dioxide levels are bouncing back to pre-COVID levels. 35)
Figure 36: This animation uses data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite to show the monthly average nitrogen dioxide concentrations over China in February 2019, February 2020 and February 2021. In early 2020, data from satellites were used to show a decline in air pollution over China coinciding with nationwide lockdowns put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. One year later, nitrogen dioxide levels in China have risen back to pre-COVID levels according to new data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-21), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- On 23 January 2020, the world saw the first coronavirus lockdown come into force in Wuhan, China in an effort to stop the spread of the illness. This lockdown set the precedent for similar measures in other cities across the country, putting a halt to daily activities including industry and traffic. Factories and other industries were shut down and people were confined to their homes. Similar measures were then put in place worldwide in the following weeks and months.
- As a result, a significant reduction in air pollutants across China was detected by satellites. This included reduced emissions of nitrogen dioxide – a gas which pollutes the air mainly as a result of traffic and the combustion of fossil fuel in industrial processes.
- Now, more than one year later, as restrictions have eased, the average level of air pollutants has rebounded and is on the rise again. The maps below show the monthly average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, derived from data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, in the central and eastern portions of China in February 2019, February 2020 and February 2021. The map shows the fluctuation in levels between the three periods, with dark red indicating high concentrations of nitrogen dioxide.
- The data indicate that nitrogen dioxide concentrations in Beijing dropped by around 35% between February 2019 and 2020, before returning to similar levels in February 2021. Similarly, in Chongqing, nitrogen dioxide dropped by approximately 45% between February 2019 and February 2020, before returning to almost double pre-COVID numbers.
- Claus Zehner, ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager, says, "We expected air pollution to rebound as lockdowns are lifted across the globe. Nitrogen dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere do not depend on human activity alone. Weather conditions such as wind speed and cloud cover also affect those levels, however a large quantity of these reductions are due to restrictions being eased. In the coming weeks and months, we expect increases of nitrogen dioxide concentrations also over Europe."
- These data are thanks to the TROPOMI instrument on board the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite – the first Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring our atmosphere.
Figure 37: NO2 concentrations over China. These images, using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, show the monthly average NO2 concentrations over China in February 2019, February 2020 and February 2021 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-21), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- Claus continues, "The special features of the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, with its high spatial resolution and accurate ability to observe trace gases compared to other atmospheric satellite missions, allows us to generate these unique nitrogen dioxide concentration measurement maps from space."
- The satellite carries the TROPOMI instrument to map a multitude of trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and aerosols – all of which affect the air we breathe and therefore our health, and our climate.
• March 4, 2021: For the first time, scientists, using satellite data from the Copernicus Sentinel missions, are now able to detect individual methane plumes leaking from natural gas pipelines around the globe. 36)
- Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases, second only to carbon dioxide in its overall contribution to climate change. The energy sector, including oil, natural gas and coal, is one of the largest sources of methane emissions. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), oil and gas operations worldwide emitted just over 70 Mt of methane into the atmosphere in 2020 alone.
- Until recently, the debate surrounding methane emissions during natural gas transportation has been focused on defective installations and devices resulting in small, ‘fugitive' or unintended emissions. Thanks to powerful technologies, such as high-resolution satellite data, scientists are now able to underline the impact of frequent and intentional methane releases, also known as ‘venting.'
- In 2020, Kayrros, a European technology start-up, successfully developed a tool to accurately detect individual methane emissions from space. Now, the platform is being used to track regular methane emissions along gas pipelines, for example in Siberia, with emission rates of up to 300 tons per hour recorded.
- By combining data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P and Sentinel-2 missions, along with artificial intelligence algorithms, Kayrros scientists detected 13 methane emission events, with rates up to 164 tonnes per hour in 2019-2020, along the Yamal-Europe pipeline – a 4196 km pipeline running across Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany.
Figure 38: Emission hotspots detected around natural gas pipelines including the Yamal-Europe and ‘Brotherhood' pipelines (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus data (2020), processed by Kayrros)
- Another 33 emission events, with rates up to 291 tons per hour, were detected over the same period on the shorter, Brotherhood pipeline. When contacted, operators confirmed that these events were related to planned maintenance and have been duly reported to the relevant authorities.
- Remarkably, the number of emission events detected by Kayrros increased by 40% over Russia in 2020 from 2019, even though the COVID-19 pandemic helped cut Russian gas exports to Europe by an estimated 14%, according to the IEA.
- Over the same period, Kayrros also detected major methane releases in the US, from numerous emissions associated with shale oil production, as well as in other countries such as Kazakhstan.
Figure 39: The images show methane hotspots over a gas pipeline in Kazakhstan detected by the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission (left) and Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission (right), image credit: ESA, the images contain modified Copernicus data (2020), processed by Kayrros
- Many methane emissions take place during transportation, as operators choose to vent the gas during routine maintenance operations, which sometimes results in a ‘double-cloud' pattern on Sentinel-5P images. These events, however, could easily and cost-effectively be avoided by using alternative operational practices such as portable flaring.
- Antoine Rostand, President of Kayrros, said, "The climate footprint of these operational practices is enormous because of the global warming potential of methane – 84 times greater than carbon dioxide over 20 years. The venting observed by Kayrros along Russian pipelines in 2019 and 2020 released methane equivalent to approximately 3 Mt of carbon dioxide, which could have been avoided."
- "We now have the technology to align with our ambitions. It's time to use it."
- ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-5P Mission Manager, Claus Zehner, commented, "Kayrros' use of Copernicus Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-5P images to detect methane hotspots is not only a major technical achievement but is hugely beneficial for the planet. It shows how cutting-edge innovation can leverage data from the Copernicus programs to deliver benefits beyond what could have been imagined when these programs were initially launched."
Figure 40: The image on the left shows examples of large methane concentrations in non-oil and gas producing regions in the US, potentially due to pipeline maintenance. The image on the right shows a map of pipelines in the same region [image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus data (2020), processed by Kayrros (left); U.S. Energy Information Administration (right)]
Figure 41: Many methane emissions take place during transportation, as operators choose to vent the gas during routine maintenance operations, which sometimes results in a ‘double-cloud' pattern on Sentinel-5P images, such as this image of Russia in July 2020. These events, however, could easily and cost-effectively be avoided by using alternative operational practices such as portable flaring (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus data (2020), processed by Kayrros)
• December 14, 2020: Scientists have used satellite data from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, combined with the Sentinel-5P satellite, to detect individual methane emissions from space. 37)
- While carbon dioxide is more abundant in the atmosphere, and therefore more commonly associated with global warming, methane is more potent as a heat-trapping gas. It usually enters the atmosphere mainly from landfill sites, livestock farming, rice agriculture and the fossil fuel industry – particularly during coal, oil and gas extraction and transportation.
- Until recently, no straightforward solution has existed to detect individual methane emissions and track them back to their original sources. The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, launched in 2017, is the first Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring the atmosphere and is the first satellite to provide regular imagery of Earth for emission detection. However, the spatial resolution of its measurements limited the ability to correctly attribute methane emissions to their sources.
- Now, scientists from Kayrros, a European technology start-up, have succeeded in developing a tool that can accurately detect individual methane emissions. By combining data from the Sentinel-5P satellite with measurements from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 infrared spectral range channels, scientists can now easily detect, quantify and attribute methane emissions to their sources.
- This was first demonstrated during the summer of 2020, when a methane leak occurred in the Permian Basin – a major shale oil and gas production region in the United States. The leak was detected and quantified on 24 September 2020 by an aerial campaign commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund, a leading international non-profit organization.
- Despite being detected, it was impossible to identify when the leak had started or the volume of methane released. The combination of Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-5P satellite data, with Kayrros technology, was used to identify the leak.
Figure 42: Methane hotspot detected with Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery. The image shows the methane hotspot detected with Copernicus Sentinel-2 imagery. The image of the location is displayed on the left, while the corresponding methane enhancement image can be seen on the right. This clearly shows the methane plumes over the area (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus data (2020), processed by Kayrros)
- Antoine Rostand, President of Kayrros, said, "The results showed that the leak began on 4 July 2020, and that it had been detected 12 times between that date and its final disappearance on 26 September. Using proprietary quantification algorithms, we ascertained that these 12 quantifications ranged between five and 20 tonnes of methane per hour."
- Kayrros had previously detected other methane plumes over the same location during the summer, but this was the first clear spotting of the event using both Copernicus Sentinel-2 and Copernicus Sentinel-5P data in a synergistic way.
- "Using Copernicus Sentinel-2 images for methane hotspot detection is a major technical breakthrough as the satellite was not initially designed for this particular purpose," commented Claus Zehner, ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-5P Mission Manager. "This is important for methane monitoring efforts as the use of these data allows for the constant monitoring of oil and gas production areas around the world and will support the implementation of the recently released European Commission Methane strategy."
Figure 43: The image shows the methane cloud as detected by Copernicus Sentinel-5P on 24 September 2020 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus data (2020), processed by Kayrros)
• November 9, 2020: For the first time, scientists, using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, are now able to detect nitrogen dioxide plumes from individual ships from space. 38)
Figure 44: Nitrogen dioxide emissions over the Mediterranean. For the first time, scientists, using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, are now able to detect nitrogen dioxide plumes from individual ships from space. This image shows the nitrogen dioxide emission patterns in dark red over the central Mediterranean Sea on 2 July 2018 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by Georgoulias et al.)
- Maritime transport has a direct impact on air quality in many coastal cities. Commercial ships and vessels burn fuel for energy and emit several types of air pollution as a by-product, causing the degradation of air quality. A past study estimated that shipping emissions are globally responsible for around 400,000 premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, and 14 million childhood asthma cases each year.
- For this reason, during the past decade, efforts to develop international shipping emission regulations have been underway. Since January 2020, the maximum sulphur dioxide content of ship fuels was globally reduced to 0.5% (down from 3.5%) in an effort to reduce air pollution and to protect health and the environment. It is expected that the nitrogen dioxide emissions from shipping will also become restricted during the coming years.
- Monitoring ships to comply with these regulations is still an unresolved issue. The open ocean covers vast areas, with limited or no capacity to perform local checks. This is where satellites, such as the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, come in handy.
- Until recently, satellite measurements needed to be aggregated and averaged over months or even years to discover shipping lanes, limiting the use of satellite data for regulation control and enforcement. Only the combined effect of all ships could be seen, and only along the busiest shipping lanes.
- In a recent paper, an international team of scientists from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), Wageningen University, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, have now discovered patterns in previously unused ‘sun glint' satellite data over the ocean that strongly resemble ship emission plumes.
Figure 45: Nitrogen dioxide concentration patterns under sun glint conditions. For the first time, scientists, using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, are now able to detect nitrogen dioxide plumes from individual ships from space. The image shows the nitrogen dioxide patterns under sun glint viewing conditions, as well as 10-meter wind fields from the ECMWF operational model analyses, and AIS ship locations from the last three hours before, and up to, Sentinel-5P's overpass time. Dark magenta colors are used for the ship positions close to the satellite's overpass time and brighter magenta colors for earlier ship positions. -Image B is an example of the original AIS locations (dots) and the wind-shifted plume locations (crosses) of a ship (Ship 6) at the time of TROPOMI's overpass. - Image C is the same as Image A but for the projected wind-shifted plume locations of the 40 ships with a length larger than 200 m. The ships are numbered according to their nitrogen dioxide levels. Dark magenta colors are used for ship plumes emitted close to the satellite's overpass time and brighter magenta colors for earlier ship plumes (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by Georgoulias et al.)
- Sun glint occurs when sunlight reflects off the surface of the ocean at the same angle that a satellite sensor views it. As water surfaces are irregular and uneven, the sunlight is scattered in different directions, leaving blurry streaks of light in the data.
- Satellite algorithms tend to mistake such bright surfaces for cloudiness, which is why, for a long time, sun glint was considered a nuisance in satellite measurements. Differentiating clouds from other bright reflective surfaces such as snow, clouds or even sun glint over the ocean surface has proven difficult – until now.
- In a study published last year, scientists were able to differentiate snow and ice from clouds by measuring the height of the cloud and comparing it with the surface elevation. If the height of the cloud is found to be sufficiently close to the surface, it can be considered either snow or ice, rather than cloud coverage.
- When applying the same method for sun glint over oceans, the team were able to easily identify and attribute emissions from individual ships in daily Sentinel-5P measurements.
- Aris Georgoulias, from the University of Thessaloniki, commented, "By combining these measurements with ship location information, and taking into account the effect of wind blowing emission plumes away from ship smoke stacks, we could show that these structures almost perfectly matched the ship tracks."
- "For now, only the largest ships, or multiple ships travelling in convoy, are visible in the satellite measurements," added Jos de Laat, from KNMI. "Ship tracks from small ships never aligned with these emission plume structures, unless their tracks crossed the track of larger ships or large shipping lanes, or a small ship travelled in a busy shipping lane."
- Claus Zehner, ESA's Sentinel-5P Mission Manager, commented, "We think that these new results demonstrate exciting possibilities for the monitoring of ship emissions in support of environmental regulation from space. Future planned satellite missions with improved spatial resolution, for example the Copernicus Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Monitoring satellites, should allow for the better characterization of nitrogen dioxide ship emission plumes and, possibly, detection of smaller ship plumes."
Figure 46: Sun glint pattern as seen in satellite data from the VIIRS instrument on the Naomi NPP satellite of NASA/NOAA on 2 July 2018. The dark spots in the middle of the sun glint are locations where the sea surface is nearly flat (lack of wind waves) and acts as a true mirror, in which case the sun glint effect disappears(image credit: NASA)
• October 19, 2020: Measurements from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite show that this year's ozone hole over the Antarctic is one of the largest and deepest in recent years. A detailed analysis from the German Aerospace Center indicates that the hole has now reached its maximum size. 39)
- The size of the ozone hole fluctuates on a regular basis. From August to October, the ozone hole increases in size – reaching a maximum between mid-September and mid-October. When temperatures high up in the stratosphere start to rise in the southern hemisphere, the ozone depletion slows, the polar vortex weakens and finally breaks down, and by the end of December ozone levels return to normal.
Figure 47: The animation shows the size of the ozone hole from 25 September 2020 until 18 October 2020. Measurements from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite show that this year's ozone hole over the Antarctic is one of the largest in recent years. A detailed analysis from the German Aerospace Center indicates that the hole has now reached its maximum size (video credit: the video contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by DLR/BIRA/ESA)
- This year, measurements from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, show that this year's ozone hole reached its maximum size of around 25 million km2 on 2 October, comparable to the sizes of 2018 and 2015 (where the area was around 22.9 and 25.6 million km2 in the same period). Last year, the ozone hole not only closed earlier than usual, but was also the smallest hole recorded in the last 30 years.
- The variability of the size of the ozone hole is largely determined by the strength of a strong wind band that flows around the Antarctic area. This strong wind band is a direct consequence of Earth's rotation and the strong temperature differences between polar and moderate latitudes.
- If the band of wind is strong, it acts like a barrier: air masses between polar and temperate latitudes can no longer be exchanged. The air masses then remain isolated over the polar latitudes and cool down during the winter.
- Diego Loyola, from the German Aerospace Center, comments, "Our observations show that the 2020 ozone hole has grown rapidly since mid-August, and covers most of the Antarctic continent – with its size well above average. What is also interesting to see is that the 2020 ozone hole is also one of the deepest and shows record-low ozone values. The total ozone column measurements from the TROPOMI instrument on Sentinel-5P reached close to 100 Dobson Units on 2 October."
Figure 48: Depth of the 2020 ozone hole. The 2020 ozone hole is also one of the deepest. Measurements from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite show that this year's ozone hole has reached its maximum depth with a peak of around 100 DU on 2 October (image credit: the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by DLR/BIRA/ESA)
- ESA's mission manager for Copernicus Sentinel-5P, Claus Zehner, adds, "The Sentinel-5P total ozone columns provide an accurate means to monitor ozone hole occurrences from space. Ozone hole phenomena cannot be used in straightforward manner for monitoring global ozone changes as they are determined by the strength of regional strong wind fields that flow around polar areas."
- In the 1970s and 1980s, the widespread use of damaging chlorofluorocarbons in products such as refrigerators and aerosol tins damaged ozone high up in our atmosphere – which led to a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica.
- In response to this, the Montreal Protocol was created in 1987 to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of these harmful substances, which is leading to a recovery of the ozone layer.
- Claus concludes, "Based on the Montreal Protocol and the decrease of anthropogenic ozone-depleting substances, scientists currently predict that the global ozone layer will reach its normal state again by around 2050."
- ESA has been involved in monitoring ozone for many years. Launched in October 2017, Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite is the first Copernicus satellite dedicated to monitoring our atmosphere. With its state-of-the-art instrument, TROPOMI, it is able to detect atmospheric gases to image air pollutants more accurately and at a higher spatial resolution than ever before from space.
Figure 49: Size of the 2020 ozone hole. The measurements from the TROPOMI instrument on the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite show that this year's ozone hole has reached its maximum size with a peak of around 25 million km2 (black dots on the right-hand plot). The ozone hole covers most of the Antarctic continent and the size is well above the average of the last ten years (grey area on the right figure), image credit: the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by DLR/BIRA/ESA)
• September 18, 2020: Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems of our time. According to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA), air pollution now accounts for one in eight deaths in Europe. Observations from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite have been vital in tracking the evolution of air pollution, specifically nitrogen dioxide concentrations, across Europe. 40)
- This year, satellite data have been widely used to monitor fluctuations in air quality brought on by strict COVID-19 measures. The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, part of the European Copernicus program, has been continuously mapping changes of air pollution since its launch in 2017.
- Scientists from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB) have used satellite data from Sentinel-5P and ground-based data in order to pinpoint the correlation between COVID-19 and the effects of air pollution across Europe.
Figure 50: These images, using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, show the average nitrogen dioxide concentrations from March to April (upper panels) and July to August (lower panels) in 2019 and 2020, and their difference maps. After a strong column decrease observed during the lockdown in March-April 2020, the majority of Europe returned to similar 2019 levels of nitrogen dioxide concentrations, except for large cities, where the nitrogen dioxide levels remain lower than in 2019 (image credit: ESA, the imagery contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-20), processed by KNMI/BIRA-IASB)
Figure 51: This graph shows the averaged nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations over five major European cities. The upper panel shows concentrations (using a 14-day moving average) in 2019 compared to 2020 using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, while the lower panel shows in situ observations. - The shades of grey denote the lockdown periods in 2020, moving progressively from strict (dark grey) to loose (light grey) measures. The percentages shown in red represent the column reduction in 2020 compared to 2019 over the same period (image credit: ESA, the images contain modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-20), processed by KNMI/BIRA-IASB)
- The data shows that the strongest reductions of 40–50% were seen in the first stage of the lockdown in southern Europe, specifically Spain, Italy and France. In July and August 2020, the data suggests that the concentrations are still 10% to 20% lower than pre-COVID levels.
- Bas Mijling, atmospheric scientist at KNMI, comments, "Quarantine measures implemented in Berlin led to a drop of about 20% with small variations seen until August 2020. In eastern Europe, the impact of the measures has been generally less dramatic than in southern Europe, and in France, where reductions of approximately 40–50% were observed during the strict lockdowns of March and April.
- "More research is currently taking place as part of ESA's ICOVAC project, or impact study of COVID-19 lockdown measures on air quality and climate."
- Jenny Stavrakou, atmospheric scientist at BIRA-IASB, adds, "The impact of meteorology on the nitrogen dioxide observations could be significant and should not be overlooked. This is why it is necessary to analyze data over longer periods of time, to better estimate the impact of human activity on the observations."
- She continues, "For the monthly mean comparison of 2019 and 2020, we estimate an uncertainty on the COVID-19 induced reduction of around 15–20%. By comparing the reductions in satellite based data and ground-based data for different cities, we find a satisfactory agreement differences lying well within the uncertainties due to meteorological variability."
- ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-5P Mission Manager, Claus Zehner, says, "What is really remarkable is the good agreement between the Sentinel-5P satellite data and the ground-based measurements. This demonstrates that air quality monitoring from space can contribute to regular air quality reporting in European countries, which has been only done, so far, using ground-based measurements."
Figure 52: This graph shows the averaged nitrogen dioxide concentrations over the Ruhr region, Scheldt estuary, Po Valley and South England. The graphs shows concentrations (using a 14-day moving average) in 2019 compared to 2020 using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite. - The shades of grey denote the lockdown periods in 2020, moving progressively from strict (dark grey) to loose (light grey) measures. The percentages shown in red represent the column reduction in 2020 compared to 2019 over the same period (image credit: ESA, the images contain modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-20), processed by KNMI/BIRA-IASB)
- The lockdowns around March–April in Europe led to significant drops of nitrogen dioxide levels across densely populated and industrialized areas of Europe, including the Ruhr region in Germany and the Po Valley in northern Italy.
- These decreases are attributed to the significant contribution of traffic, as well as of the industrial and energy sectors to nitrogen dioxide levels. The concentrations appear to return to near-normal levels in July–August 2020, except over large cities where human activities have not yet fully resumed.
- Nitrogen dioxide is released into the atmosphere during fuel combustion from vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities and can have significant impacts on human health – increasing the likelihood of developing respiratory problems. The Copernicus Sentinel-5P carries the TROPOMI instrument – a state-of-the-art instrument that detects the unique fingerprint of atmospheric gases to image air pollutants more accurately and at a higher spatial resolution than ever before.
• September 17, 2020: Copernicus Sentinel-5P's high revisit rate combined with GHGSat's high-resolution commercial imagery can give landfill operators and regulators the information they need to reduce methane emissions from landfill sites. 41)
- As a potent greenhouse gas, methane is becoming an increasing concern. Later this year, the EU will issue a Methane Strategy, which includes uncontrolled emissions from landfill sites as a priority target for reducing methane emissions within the European Green Deal.
- Accurate measurements of concentrations of methane are key to identifying particular sources and to adopting strategies to mitigate emissions. Until now, however, satellite systems measuring methane have been of insufficient resolution to attribute emissions from individual landfill sites.
- Working with Benito Roggio Ambiental (BRA), the waste management operator responsible for one of the largest landfill sites in South America, and the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON), scientists have been analyzing Sentinel-5P data to guide GHGSat's demonstration high-resolution satellite, Claire, to measure methane emissions from individual waste management facilities.
Figure 53: Captured by GHGSat's Claire mission on 15 February 2020, this image shows concentrations of methane from the Norte III landfill site in Buenos Aires, Argentina. GHGSat is a New Space initiative that draws on Copernicus Sentinel-5P data for mapping methane hotspots [image credit: GHGSat (background ©2020 Google map data)]
- GHGSat's new Iris satellite, which was taken into orbit on 2 September 2020 on ESA's Vega rocket, provides even higher spatial resolution and improved detection to collect methane measurements for smaller sources.
- Copernicus Sentinel-5P's high revisit rate combined with GHGSat's high-resolution imagery is enabling new analytics solutions that can support landfill operators and regulators reduce the cost of inspection, regularly screen for emissions and identify opportunities to recover landfill gas, for example.
- Scientists from SRON and GHGSat are developing synergetic approaches for monitoring methane emission sources including waste management facilities in the EU and globally.
Figure 54: One year averaged methane concentrations over Buenos Aires observed by the TROPOMI instrument on Copernicus Sentinel-5P. The black square denotes the location for GHGSat to target. TROPOMI data are analyzed by SR ON Netherlands Institute for Space Research to guide GHGSat and other high-resolution instruments towards large methane emitters (image credit: ESA, the image contains Copernicus Sentinel data (2019–1920), processed by SRON)
- The Sentinel-5P data analyzed by SRON can be used to point high-resolution instruments such as GHSat's demonstration satellite Claire and its new Iris satellite towards large methane sources. With these advances in high-resolution data and new analytics approaches, ESA anticipates significant progress on this practical application in the coming months and years.
- Rodrigo Pontiggia, BRA Development and Innovation Manager says, "BRA has various initiatives to safely collect and use land-fill gas from the Norte III site. The size of the landfill presents unique challenges and we are impressed with the early results that GHGSat has delivered to characterize our methane emissions.
- "We look forward to exploring the enhanced capabilities presented by Iris and the ways in which we can incorporate GHGSat data into our operations on a recurring basis."
- GHGSat's Director of Business Development (Europe), Adina Gillespie, comments, "Together with BRA, we will initiate a new project to collectively evaluate Iris data for achievable commercial as well as operational integration into management of the Norte III landfill site. This project will build on the current ESA study being undertaken by the UK National Physical Laboratory and GHGSat."
- The ESA study is using methane measurements of a UK landfill site to evaluate satellite and ground measurement capability for its applicability to monitoring oil & gas pipelines. The results from this study will help guide the BRA follow-on developments.
- In anticipation of the data from Iris, ESA, the Canadian Space Agency and GHGSat have teamed up through an announcement of opportunity to make 5% of the data available for research purposes, including waste management studies.
• July 29, 2020: Methane may not be as abundant in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, but with a global warming potential many times greater than carbon dioxide, monitoring and controlling industrial emissions of this potent gas is imperative to helping combat climate change. GHGSat is a New Space initiative that draws on Copernicus Sentinel-5P data for mapping methane hotspots – and its Claire satellite has now collected more than 60 000 methane measurements of industrial facilities around the world. 42)
- Copernicus Sentinel-5P's role is to map a range of atmospheric gases around the globe every 24 hours. Its TROPOMI spectrometer delivers data with a resolution as high as 7 km x 5.5 km for methane, but these data can't be used to pinpoint specific facilities responsible for emissions.
- However, GHGSat's demonstration satellite ‘Claire' can, but it is helped with a bit of guidance from Sentinel-5P.
- Drawing on Sentinel-5P data, the GHGSat tasks Claire to home in on methane point sources. Using this approach, GHGSat has been able to attribute large methane leaks to specific industrial facilities. This is catching the attention of managers responsible for emissions from industries such as oil and gas, waste management, mining, agriculture and power generation.
- The Climate Investments arm of the Oil & Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI) has taken particular interest, including an investment in GHGSat.
- Managing Director of Ventures for OGCI Climate Investments, Rhea Hamilton, says, "GHGSat's methane monitoring product has achieved impressive results and is attractive to oil and gas operators.
- "The company has identified significant methane leaks and supported operators in understanding the results, prompting corrective action. OGCI Climate Investments looks forward to watching GHGSat grow to serve more operators."
- Following on from the Claire demonstrator, GHGSat plans to have a constellation of 10 satellites operating by 2022. The next satellite, Iris, which will be able to spot even smaller methane leaks, is one of the 53 satellites that will be launched on the Vega VV16 flight, scheduled for mid-August.
- ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programs, Josef Aschbacher, commented, "Copernicus Sentinel-5P and Claire working together is a prime example of institutional satellites working hand in hand with commercial satellites, a concept that is taking Earth observation into a new era.
- "We are very much looking forward to seeing Iris launch as a next step towards better greenhouse gas monitoring."
- Iris will offer a spatial resolution of 25 m compared to Claire's 50 m resolution, therefore allowing methane to be traced even more accurately.
Figure 55: GHGSat's commercial satellite 'Iris' during testing (mass of 16 kg). Iris is scheduled to launch in August 2020 and will measure sources of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, at higher resolution than has previously been possible. Industrial site operators will use Iris measurements alongside Copernicus Sentinel-5P and Claire measurements to better understand their greenhouse gas emissions, enabling them to control and, ultimately, reduce them(image credit: GHGSat)
- Alongside augmented satellite performance coming from Iris, GHGSat is addressing a growing demand for analytics services and predictive models. For example, dedicated methane analytics and reporting is possible for asset managers and stakeholders responsible for environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors for understanding investment risk and growth opportunity.
Figure 56: Methane plume from oil & gas infrastructure in the Caspian Sea region. Captured by GHGSat's Claire mission on 21 May 2020, this image shows methane emissions from an onshore oil & gas facility in the Caspian Sea Region. GHGSat is a New Space initiative that draws on Copernicus Sentinel-5P data for mapping methane hotspots. Its Claire satellite has now collected more than 60 000 methane measurements of industrial facilities around the world [image credit: GHGSat (background © 2020 Google map data)]
- GHGSat President and CEO, Stephane Germain, makes analytics a priority to answer specific market needs. He comments, "GHGSat's analytics are of growing interest for industrial operators in all sectors, as they are accelerating their efforts to mitigate emissions. With this in mind, GHGSat is building on its expertise in Canada and has advanced plans for an international analytics center delivering for ESG in the financial sector."
Figure 57: Working together to monitor greenhouse gases. With the climate crisis high on the global political agenda and the issue of greenhouse gases a serious concern, today also saw ESA, the Canadian Space Agency and the Canadian GHGSat company sign a Memorandum of Intent. The new collaboration will entail the provision of free data from the GHGSat constellation to the scientific community and support global efforts to monitor greenhouse gases and improve our understanding of chemical and physical atmospheric processes. Back row from left to right: Giuseppe Ottavianelli, ESA's Earth Observation PROBA-1 and Third Party Mission Manager, Simonetta Cheli, Head of Strategy, Program & Coordination Office for ESA's Earth Observation Programs, Johann-Dietrich Wörner, ESA Director General and Adina Gillespie, Director of Business Development, Europe at GHGSat Inc. Front row: Josef Aschbacher, ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programs and Stéphane Germain, President and Chief Executive Officer at GHGSat Inc.)
- In anticipation of the data from Iris, ESA, the Canadian Space Agency and GHGSat have teamed up through an announcement of opportunity to make 5% of Iris data freely available for research purposes.
• July 9, 2020: Every summer, the wind carries large amounts of desert dust particles from the hot and dry Sahara Desert in northern Africa across the Atlantic Ocean. Data from the Copernicus Sentinel satellites and ESA's Aeolus satellite show the extent of this year's summer dust plume, dubbed ‘Godzilla,' on its journey across the Atlantic. 43)
- This Saharan dust storm is also known as the Saharan Air Layer, which typically forms between late spring and early autumn, peaking in late June to mid-August. Large amounts of dust particles from the African desert are swept up into the dry air by strong winds near the ground, as well as thunder storms. The dust can then float for days, or weeks, depending on how dry, fast and turbulent the air masses become. Winds in the higher troposphere then sweep the dust across the Atlantic Ocean towards the Caribbean and the United States.
- Although this meteorological phenomenon occurs every year, the June 2020 plume is said to be unusual owing to its size and the distance travelled. According to NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, the dust plume was around 60—70% dustier than an average outbreak – making it the dustiest event since records began around 20 years ago.
Figure 58: The Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission is dedicated to monitoring air pollution by measuring a multitude of trace gases as well as aerosols. This animation shows the spread of aerosols from the Saharan dust plume moving westward across the Atlantic Ocean from 1 June to 26 June 2020. This plume has reached the Caribbean, South America and the United States (video credit: ESA, this video contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
Figure 59: This composite image shows combined observations from the Aeolus satellite and the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite on 19 June 2020. The underlying Sentinel-5P aerosol index in florescent yellow and green, which indicates the extent of the elevated Saharan dust plume over the Atlantic, has been overlaid with information from Aeolus' aerosol and cloud data. In yellow, parts of the laser light are scattered and absorbed by the Saharan dust (image credit: ESA, the image contains Copernicus and Aeolus data (2020), visualized with VirES)
Note: VirES for Aeolus is a highly interactive data manipulation and retrieval interface for ESA's Aeolus mission products. It includes tools for studying various atmospheric parameters, in space and time, measured by the Aeolus satellite.
- Aeolus data provides valuable information regarding the altitude and vertical extent of the aerosol layer, compared to downward-looking imagers, as it can determine the height at which the dust layer is travelling. Aeolus data in this image indicates that most of the dust was 3—6 km above the ground.
- These data are extremely important for air quality models used by, for example, the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, to predict how far the dust layer will travel and how it develops, and therefore, the effects it will have locally.
- Different satellites carry individual instruments that provide us with a wealth of complementary information. While the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite maps a multitude of air pollutants around the globe, Aeolus is the first satellite mission to acquire profiles of Earth's wind on a global scale. As shown here, Aeolus also delivers information about the vertical distribution of aerosol and cloud layers. This combination of satellite data allow scientists to improve their understanding of the Saharan Air Layer, and allows forecasters to provide better air quality predictions.
Figure 60: In this image, captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, dust particles can be seen over Sao Filipe on 20 June 2020 (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)
- While the dust poses a threat for our health, causing hazy skies and triggering air quality alerts, the travelling Saharan dust plays an important role in our ecosystem. The dust is a major source of nutrients which are essential for phytoplankton – microscopic marine plants that drift on or near the surface of the ocean. Some of the minerals from the dust falls into the ocean, triggering blooms of phytoplankton to form on the ocean surface, which in turn provides food on which other marine life depends.
- The dust is also essential for life in the Amazon. It replenishes nutrients in rainforest soils – nutrients that would otherwise be depleted by frequent rainfall in this tropical region.
- The dry and dusty air layers have also been shown to suppress the development of hurricanes and storms in the Atlantic. Tropical storms need warm ocean waters and warm humid air in order to form. If a storm were to develop, it would collide with the dusty and dry layers of air of the Saharan dust cloud, preventing it from growing further.
• July 1, 2020: Concentrations of sulphur dioxide in polluted areas in India have decreased by around 40% between April 2019 and April 2020. Using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, from the European Union Copernicus program, scientists have produced new maps which show the drop in concentrations across the country in times of COVID-19. 44)
- In a report by Greenpeace last year, India was named the world's largest emitter of anthropogenic sulphur dioxide – a significant contributor to air pollution. Sulphur dioxide causes many health-related problems, can harm sensitive ecosystems and is also a precursor to acid rain.
- While some atmospheric sulphur dioxide is produced from natural processes, such as volcanoes, a substantial amount is produced by human activities – predominantly from power plants burning fossil fuels.
- In India, emissions of sulphur dioxide have strongly increased over the last ten years, exacerbating haze problems over large parts of the country. However, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, human and industrial activity dropped considerably since the beginning of its lockdown on 25 March 2020.
- Sulphur dioxide concentrations have dropped significantly compared to the previous year, notably over New Delhi, over many large coal-fired power plants as well as other industrial areas. Some large plants in the northeast states of Odisha, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh have maintained a substantial level of activity, while others appear to have ceased entirely.
Figure 61: Based on measurements gathered by the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, the map shows the averaged concentrations of sulphur dioxide over India from April 2019, compared to April 2020. The darker shades of red and purple depict greater concentrations of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere. Sulphur dioxide mainly comes from industrial processes and causes many health-related problems (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus data (2019-20), processed by BIRA-IASB)
- This analysis was produced by using data from the TROPOMI instrument on the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite. A recent algorithm improvement, completed by the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB), allows the team to better picture the evolution of anthropogenic sulphur dioxide emissions over the country.
- Nicolas Theys, from BIRA-IASB, comments, "We are very pleased with the new algorithm development as it is very sensitive to low sulphur dioxide concentrations caused by anthropogenic activities. As compared to the operational processor, the sensitivity and accuracy for anthropogenic emission detection has increased by an order of magnitude."
- ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager, Claus Zehner, adds, "With our operational product, we can reliably measure strong sulphur dioxide concentrations emitted by volcanoes, but we have problems in detecting anthropogenic sulphur dioxide emissions. This new algorithm will enable new applications, for example in verifying existing sulphur dioxide emission inventories, after it has been implemented into the operational Sentinel-5P processing chain at the German Aerospace Center."
• June 11, 2020: A new online platform that allows for the tracking of air pollution worldwide is now available to the public. The maps, which use data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, show the averaged nitrogen dioxide concentrations using a 14-day moving average. The maps not only show changes over time on a global scale, but also provide the possibility for users to zoom in to areas of interest, for example any city or region over Europe. 45)
- Nitrogen dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere vary widely on a day-to-day basis owing to the fluctuations of emissions, as well as variations in weather conditions such as sunlight, temperature and wind, all of which can affect the lifetime of the gas in the atmosphere.
- For these reasons, it is necessary to analyze data over a substantial period of time – in this case 14 days – as it allows for the accurate mapping and analysis of nitrogen dioxide concentrations across the globe.
- Nitrogen dioxide is produced from power plants, vehicles and other industrial facilities and can have significant impacts on human health – increasing the likelihood of developing respiratory problems.
- With air quality a serious concern, the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite was launched in 2017 to map a multitude of air pollutants around the globe. Copernicus Sentinel-5P carries the TROPOMI instrument – a state-of-the-art instrument that detects the unique fingerprint of atmospheric gases to image air pollutants more accurately and at a higher spatial resolution than ever before.
- The mapping service is part of the Sentinel-5P Product Algorithm Laboratory (S5P-PAL) – an ongoing project funded by the European Commission. S5P-PAL is a project that allows fast and cost-efficient Sentinel-5P prototype product development (for example bromine monoxide and water vapor) and the generation of higher level products like global maps. New mapping services for the carbon monoxide product and additional functionalities, for example the selection of an area and time-period to investigate time-series of measurements, are currently in development.
- The mapping service is available here: https://maps.s5p-pal.com/
- The S5P-PAL is also part of the new ‘Rapid Action on Coronavirus and Earth observation' dashboard, also known as RACE. The platform provides access to key environmental, economic and social indicators to measure the impact of the coronavirus lockdown and monitor post-lockdown recovery.
Figure 62: The averaged maps also reflect the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown – with drastic reductions of nitrogen dioxide concentrations visible over many areas. These effects can now be easily explored across the globe (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2020), processed by S[&]T)
• June 1, 2020: While carbon dioxide is more abundant in the atmosphere and therefore more commonly associated with global warming, methane is around 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas. Given its importance, Canadian company GHGSat have worked in collaboration with the Sentinel-5P team at SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research to investigate hotspots of methane emissions during COVID-19. 46)
- Carbon dioxide is generally produced by the combustion of fossil fuels, while fossil fuel production is one of the largest sources of methane emissions. According to the World Meteorological Organization's State of the Global Climate report last year, current carbon dioxide and methane concentrations represent respectively 150% and 250% of pre-industrial levels, before 1750.
- Owing to the importance of monitoring methane, SRON's and GHGSat's research teams have been working since early-2019 to detect methane hotspots. The SRON team uses data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite to detect emissions on a global scale. The GHGSat team then utilizes data from GHGSat satellites to quantify and attribute the emissions to specific facilities around the world.
- Their work has led to several new hotspots being discovered in 2020, for instance over a coal mine in China. The team have also detected methane emissions over the Permian Basin – the largest oil-producing region in the United States. The team observed concentrations from March-April 2020, compared to the same period as last year in an effort to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 activities on methane emissions.
Figure 63: Methane concentrations over the Permian Basin. GHGSat uses data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite to detect emission hotspots in various regions – including the Permian Basin. The image on the left shows the enhanced methane concentrations over the Permian basin, while the image on the right highlights the exact facility in the Permian Basin leaking methane (image credit: GHGSat)
- An initial look at these data suggest a substantial increase in methane concentrations in 2020, compared to 2019. Claus Zehner, ESA's Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager, says, "An explanation for this could be that as a result of less demand for gas because of COVID-19, it is burned and vented – leading to higher methane emissions over this area."
- Ilse Aben, from SRON, comments, "However, these results are inconclusive when using only Sentinel-5P data in the Permian Basin as the number of observations are limited."
- The spatial distribution of Sentinel-5P concentrations in 2020 and in 2019 both indicate local enhancements of methane concentrations in the Delaware and Midland portions of the basin. But higher-resolution measurements, such as those provided by GHGSat, are needed to attribute these enhancements to specific facilities.
- The joint analysis of GHGSat and Sentinel-5P regional methane data will continue to explore and quantify how COVID-19 is affecting emissions from the natural gas industry on a regional scale – all the way down to the level of industrial facilities.
Figure 64: TROPOMI methane measurements over a coal mine in the Shanxi province, China. GHGSat have worked in close collaboration with the Sentinel-5P team at SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research to investigate hotspots of methane emissions. The team uses data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite to detect emissions on a global scale, and then utilizes data from GHGSat satellites to quantify and attribute emission to specific facilities around the world. -This has led to several new hotspots being discovered including a coal mine in the Shanxi province, China (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018, 2020), processed by SRON)
- Stephane Germain, CEO of GHGSat, comments, "GHGSat continues to work closely with ESA and SRON's Sentinel-5P science team. We are advancing the science of satellite measurements of atmospheric trace gases while simultaneously providing practical information to industrial operators to reduce facility-level emissions. GHGSat's next satellites, scheduled to launch in June and December of this year, will help improve our collective understanding of industrial emissions around the world."
- Eric Laliberté, Director General Utilization from the Canadian Space Agency, says, "The Canadian Space Agency is committed to developing space technologies and supporting innovative missions to better understand and mitigate climate change. The results achieved by GHGSat are already having an impact and we are excited to continue working with GHGSat and ESA to better understand greenhouse gas emissions worldwide."
- Claus adds, "In order to further support the scientific uptake of GHGSat measurements, ESA has organized, together with the Canadian Space Agency and GHGSat, a dedicated Announcement of Opportunity Call that will provide around 5% of the measurement capacity of the upcoming commercial GHGSat-C1, also known as the Iris satellite, to the scientific community."
- The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, with its state-of-the-art instrument TROPOMI, can also map other pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and aerosols – all of which affect the air we breathe.
Figure 65: GHGSat methane concentrations over a coal mine in the Shanxi province, China. This image shows GHGSat methane concentrations over a coal mine in the Shanxi province, China (image credit: GHGSat)
• May 15, 2020: As the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives across the globe, Earth-observing satellites take the pulse of our planet from space. While the global lockdown has had a massive impact on daily life and the economy, there have been environmental benefits that are visible from space. How can we preserve these positives when returning to ‘business as usual'? 47)
Figure 66: Seen from space: COVID-19 and the environment. This video includes an interview in English with Josef Aschbacher, Director of Earth Observation Programs (video credit: ESA)
• May 05, 2020: Half of humanity is being affected by the lockdown measures implemented as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The strong global decrease of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations, when compared to the levels detected over the previous year by the European Sentinel-5P satellite is therefore not surprising. Nitrogen oxides are an indicator of air pollution from industrial and transport activities. 48)
- However, the comparison is deceptive. This year, polar winds over large parts of Europe and a persistent westerly wind, which prevented the accumulation of pollutants, already provided unusually clean air. Assessing the impact of the Coronavirus on this is therefore complex. Researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) Earth Observation Center (EOC) have obtained scientifically sound evidence of the 'Corona' effect.
Figure 67: Comparison of nitrogen dioxide emissions over Europe between March/April 2019 and 2020 [image credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)]
Figure 68: Comparison of nitrogen dioxide emissions over Asia between 2019 and 2020 [image credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)]
Figure 69: Comparison of nitrogen dioxide emissions in North America between March/April 2019 and 2020 [image credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)]
- The situation in North America between mid-March and April is similar to that in Europe on a year-on-year basis. Here, the reduction of tropospheric nitrogen dioxide on the east coast and especially in the region around New York is of the order of 30 percent. The weather-related fluctuations were reduced by creating monthly averages. These averages were calculated over the period from 16 March to 15 April. No adjustments for the influence of the weather on the combination of long-term satellite observations, in-situ measurements and model calculations were made – as described in the text.
• May 04, 2020: An important new tool to combat climate change is now available. Using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, this new technology makes it possible to track and attribute methane emissions around the world. 49)
Figure 70: This image shows a sample of abnormal methane concentrations over 2019. The size and color of the circles indicate the size and intensity of the plume detected. The redder the color, the higher the concentration of the methane plume (image credit: ESA, the image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019), processed by Kayrros)
- Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas and its concentration in the atmosphere is currently increasing at a rate of around 1% per year. It effectively absorbs heat from the sun, more so than carbon dioxide, and contributes significantly to the warming of the atmosphere. As a result, there is a growing demand to track and regulate methane emissions.
- Scientists from Kayrros, a European technology start-up, have recently developed a platform to monitor methane emissions on a global scale. Their findings come from a technology that leverages Copernicus Sentinel-5P data along with additional information from a range of other sources – such as ground sensor data, position tracking and social media data.
- In addition to these, supplementary data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 missions was also used, resulting in the ability to pinpoint the location, potency and size of methane leaks around the world.
Figure 71: In December 2019, Kayrros detected a methane plume over the Permian Basin in the US using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite. The Permian Basin is a shale play – an oil and gas region with a high density of wells – meaning there were hundreds of potential sources of the leak. Kayrros therefore used data from the Copernicus Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-1 missions to look into which wells had completed operations within three months of the leak – a factor that would significantly narrow down the potential suspects. The result was that only one operator was in this category. - The example of the Permian Basin shows how the use of the Copernicus Sentinel satellites, in combination with Kayrros's technology, can be used to narrow down the source of a methane leak. Whilst Sentinel-5P allowed the initial detection, it was only through the use of Sentinel-2 and Sentinel-1 that the final source could be identified (image credit: Kayrros)
- The Kayrros studies show that there are around 100 high volume-emitting methane leaks at any one time around the world. Around 50% of these emissions come from regions with activities in oil and gas, coal mining and other heavy industries.
- Jean Bastin, Product Manager at Kayrros, explains, "Over one year, those 100 leaks are releasing 20 megatons of methane, with around half of those attributable to the oil and gas sector and other heavy industries. This means that this sector emits an amount of methane that is equivalent to the yearly carbon dioxide emissions of both Germany and France combined."
- The International Energy Agency's recent Methane Tracker underlined the importance of satellite data for precise detection data. Prior to this technology, engineering estimates remained the basis of most benchmarks on methane levels. This new ability to provide real-time detection of methane will profoundly change the direction of climate policy, and the benefits of the new technology are multiple.
- ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programs, Josef Aschbacher, says "In the public sector, the use of observed data on methane emissions instead of untested assumptions on methane intensity, will improve the accuracy of annual inventories of greenhouse emissions. For governments and regulators, this technology will enable better decisions on energy policy if they can establish a baseline for methane emissions and monitor changes in carbon intensity as they happen."
• April 25, 2020: Findings published in the journal Science Advances show that oil and gas operations in America's sprawling Permian Basin are releasing methane at twice the average rate found in previous studies of 11 other major U.S. oil and gas regions. The new study was authored by scientists from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), Harvard University, Georgia Tech and the SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research. 50) 51)
Figure 72: The Permian Basin is the largest oil field on the planet. Tens of thousands of wells dot the 86,000 square mile landscape that spans West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico [image credit: EDF (Environmental Defense Fund), Nick Simonite]
- "These are the highest emissions ever measured from a major U.S. oil and gas basin. There's so much methane escaping from Permian oil and gas operations that it nearly triples the 20-year climate impact of burning the gas they're producing," said co-author Dr. Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at EDF. "These findings demonstrate the rapidly growing ability of satellite technology to track emissions like these and to provide the data needed by both companies and regulators to know where emissions reductions are needed."
- Based on 11 months of satellite data encompassing 200,000 individual readings taken across the 160,000 km2 basin by the European Space Agency's TROPOMI instrument from May 2018 to March 2019, Permian oil and gas operations are losing methane at a rate equal to 3.7% of their gas production. The wasted methane - which is the main component in natural gas - is enough to supply 2 million U.S. households.
- Methane (CH4) is a potent greenhouse gas, human emissions of which cause over a quarter of today's warming. Reducing methane from oil and gas operations is the fastest, most cost-effective way to slow the rate of warming, even as the necessary transition to a net-zero carbon economy continues.