NASA Gas Detector Plane Identifies "Super-Emitters" Across California

NASA has made a surprising discovery in California after it flew a plane across the state outfitted with specialized gas-imaging sensors. The new data, published this week in the scientific journal Nature, found that a third of California's methane emissions can be traced to several "super-emitters." 

In the last several years, NASA teamed up with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the California Energy Commission, discovered most methane emissions in California are from industrial facilities, such as landfills, large dairy farms, and oil and gas fields. 

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, flew a plane with the Airborne Visible InfraRed Imaging Spectrometer - Next Generation (AVIRIS-NG) over 300,000 facilities across California. 

The team found 550 sources emitting highly concentrated methane into the atmosphere. At least 55 of these sources were considered "super-emitters" because of the high-volume of methane that was detected. 

The study said the 55 "super-emitters" were responsible for at least a third of California's total methane emission. 

Of the 270 surveyed landfills, about 30 were observed to emit high amounts of methane and responsible for 40% of all emissions detected during the survey. 

"These findings illustrate the importance of monitoring point sources across multiple sectors [of the economy] and broad regions, both for improved understanding of methane budgets and to support emission mitigation efforts," said the lead scientist on the study, Riley Duren, a research scientist at the University of Arizona and an Engineering Fellow at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In total, landfills accounted for 41% of the methane emissions, dairy and manure farms were 26%, and oil and gas operations 26%.

The survey marks the first time the federal government has flown a surveillance aircraft over any state to monitor methane emissions of facilities. 

The release of this report could induce lawmakers to slap businesses that are considered "super-emitters" with methane taxes.