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Dutch "environmental detective in space" begins the process of searching for greenhouse gases from garbage dumps

Dutch “environmental detective in space” begins the process of searching for greenhouse gases from garbage dumps

Illustration of the Sentinel-5p satellite carrying the Dutch instrument TROPOMI, which scans the atmosphere for gases important for climate and air quality.Image by ESA/ATG

Sometimes, landfills unintentionally emit huge amounts of methane. This greenhouse gas is created when organic waste decomposes without coming into contact with oxygen. In recent years, space scientists have succeeded in discovering large methane leaks from barren mountains.

At the Climate Summit held in Dubai, the research team – in cooperation with the Netherlands Institute for Space Research SRON and Canada’s GHGSat – announced that it would work to expand the scope of its work. The satellite focuses on ten garbage dumps spread across three continents, to identify areas measuring 25 x 25 meters from which a lot of methane is leaking.

The project’s local authorities can then stop the leak, for example by covering the landfill and capturing the methane. Methane can be used as fuel or can be burned, which also releases greenhouse gases, but is less harmful than methane. It is also possible to separate organic waste so that you can ferment or compost it with oxygen.

The measuring device on the satellite monitors the reflection of sunlight on the Earth’s surface. Gases in the atmosphere absorb some of this light, each at its own frequency. The measuring instrument can therefore detect methane plumes.

“Methane is invisible and odorless,” says Bram Masakers of SRON. “We made the methane plume visible, and with it the problem.”

The Casablanca landfill where the satellite detected a methane plume.  Photo: GHGSat/Esri

The Casablanca landfill where the satellite detected a methane plume.Photo: GHGSat/Esri

The satellite’s work contributes to a larger project called LOW-Methane, which aims to reduce methane emissions from waste by 1 million tons per year by 2030. Masakers: “This represents about 2 percent of total global methane emissions from landfills.”

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Methane leaks not only from landfills, but also regularly from coal mines and oil and gas facilities. “This is the low-hanging fruit in the fight against climate change,” says Aldert van Amerongen (also SRON). “If we address these leaks, we will achieve rapid climate gains with little effort.”

Methane is a greenhouse gas about 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It disappears from the atmosphere very quickly, after more than 10 years. In carbon dioxide there Hundreds of years necessary for.