from the world's big
A European start-up uses satellite data to pinpoint individual sources of abnormal methane concentration.
- Just 100 sources of methane emit 20 megatons each year.
- Thanks to satellite data, individual culprits can now be found.
- The new tech could be used to police 'abnormal' methane emissions.
Significant contributor to global warming<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI0MTQ0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NTAyNzcxMn0.abXjEt1qcSTantp_n9inPreT0SCPI_NC2MLnUGBljls/img.jpg?width=980" id="ce493" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="57de847a9981a381ef8550b85d604497" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bNodding donkey in Midland, Texas. The oil and gas industry is a major emitter of methane." />
Nodding donkey in Midland, Texas. The oil and gas industry is a major emitter of methane.
Image: Eric Kounce TexasRaiser, public domain<p>Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas (after CO2), and its concentration in the atmosphere is increasing at around 1% each year. Because it absorbs the sun's heat even more efficiently than CO2, it's a significant contributor to global warming. </p><p>The first step to fight the rise in methane emissions is to track who's doing it. That's just become a lot easier. Paris-based tech start-up Kayrros can now find individual sources of abnormal methane emissions, all across the world. That's a first, and it's made possible by data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite.</p><p>Developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and launched in 2017, the British-built Sentinel-5 Precursor (<a href="https://earth.esa.int/web/guest/missions/esa-eo-missions/sentinel-5p" target="_blank">Sentinel-5P</a>) is the first satellite of the Copernicus program dedicated to monitoring air pollution, thanks to a spectrometer called <a href="http://www.tropomi.eu/" target="_blank">Tropomi </a>(short for Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument).</p><p>With a resolution of about 50 km<sup>2</sup>, this Dutch-built instrument can monitor atmospheric levels of aerosols, sulphur dioxide (SO<sub>2</sub>), nitrogen dioxide (NO<sub>2</sub>), carbon monoxide (CO), formaldehyde (CH<sub>2</sub>O), ozone (O<sub>3</sub>) and methane (CH<sub>4</sub>). <span></span></p>
High-volume methane leaks<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI0MTQzOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjQ4MDU4Mn0.eyWaywl5TPljlpaJfA6bi7vzOdBjE42r0uVf1kfQCNQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="beadd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d9064ebea1b44796ecde5892f91edfc3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bAbnormal methane concentrations in 2019 \u2013 often found in regions of the world producing or procesing oil and gas. Data provided by the Copernicus program, processed by Kayrros." />
Abnormal methane concentrations in 2019 – often found in regions of the world producing or processing oil and gas. Data provided by the Copernicus program, processed by Kayrros.
Image: Kayrros<p>You may not have heard of Tropomi yet, but it's likely you've already seen its work. Earlier this year, Copernicus Sentinel-5P produced the images that showed substantially reduced NO<sub>2</sub> levels across China, due to the coronavirus lockdown. </p><p>Tropomi also offers the most detailed monitoring of methane emissions presently available. Combining that data with other input from older-model Copernicus satellites Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2, and from other sources (including ground sensors, position tracking and even social media), Kayrros scientists can identify the size, potency, and location of abnormal methane leaks around the world. </p><p>According to Kayrros, there are around <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-05-methane-emissions-global-scale.html" target="_blank">100 high-volume methane leaks</a> active around the world at any given time. Together, they release about 20 megatons of methane per year. About half of that volume is associated with mining for oil, gas or coal, or other heavy industries. Together, that amount of methane per annum is equivalent to CO<sub>2</sub> emissions of France and Germany combined.<br></p><p>So, how precise is the Kayrros method? Here's a recent case study. </p>
Plume over the Permian Basin<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI0MTQzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTM5NjgwOH0.bXMZKKhhiQzi-7cYcwiomr7H2ohUEL-Y0HOxjRv6sZ4/img.jpg?width=980" id="90e74" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b50fe434cb6e34abdf2fccead19aafe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image: Kayrros<p>In December last year, Kayrros used data from Copernicus-5P to identify the source of a methane plume over the Permian Basin, which covers western Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Sitting on top of a part of the Mid-Continent Oil Field, the Basin's surface is dotted with hundreds of oil wells. Yet with a little help from Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2, Copernicus-5P managed to find the exact location, and the individual culprit. <br></p><p>For the first time, Kayrros tech and Copernicus-5P data make it possible to detect abnormal methane emissions in real time. Not only will this increase the precision of methane emission estimates, it will also allow regulators to find and fine the exact culprits, and if necessary, shut down their operations. </p>
Found: the culprit<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzI0MTQyNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTczNTIxM30.JwY44VqYaWDEH7VtsoexxZS30Bp6Nz36prCNbFTSenY/img.jpg?width=980" id="74329" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="311f2c45db616fee626a540c4c735c8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The private sector may need the Outer Space Treaty to be updated before it can make any claims to celestial bodies or their resources.
- The Outer Space Treaty, which was signed in 1967, is the basis of international space law. Its regulations set out what nations can and cannot do, in terms of colonization and enterprise in space.
- One major stipulation of the treaty is that no nation can individually claim or colonize any part of the universe—when the US planted a flag on the Moon in 1969, it took great pains to ensure the world it was symbolic, not an act of claiming territory.
- Essentially to do anything in space, as a private enterprise, you have to be able to make money. When it comes to asteroid mining, for instance, it would be "astronomically" expensive to set up such an industry. The only way to get around this would be if the resources being extracted were so rare you could sell them for a fortune on Earth.
Could 16 Psyche make every person on Earth a billionaire? The space mining race is heating up.
- 16 Psyche is an asteroid full of metal in the asteroid belt that could be worth $700 quintillion.
- NASA plans to visit 16 Psyche by 2026.
- Commercial mining of faraway asteroids could still be decades away and some set closer targets, like the moon.
Artist's conceptual drawing of the Psyche spacecraft, which will be used to directly explore 16 Psyche.
Why is NASA sending a spacecraft to a metal world? - Linda T. Elkins-Tanton<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cdf2c047d148c4d45fd35e26402016a1"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/1JXq9779zwU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The technology is poised to change how many companies operate.
- Blockchain technology, as a digital ledger for economic transactions, is poised to "radically" impact companies across the board.
- It may help reinforce the trust in certain markets as sensors collect data throughout production.
- Blockchain might also create a marketplace for whistleblowing.
Advances in satellite imagery are shining a light.
- Today, there are 40.3 million slaves on the planet, more than the number of people living in Canada.
- Slavery can be hard to find, but it commonly occurs in several key industries like fishing and mining.
- Using satellite data, researchers and activists are using crowdsourcing and artificial intelligence to identify sites where slavery is taking place.
Using an eye in the sky<p>Slavery takes place in the background, but its fingerprints are all over the products modern society relies on. Textiles, electronics, agriculture, and even brick-making all involve slavery to one degree or another. A growing body of research is using satellite imagery to shine a light on slavery practices. In fact, an estimated <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/02/researchers-spy-signs-slavery-space" target="_blank">one-third</a> of all slavery can be seen from space.</p><p>While rooting out specific instances of slavery can be difficult, we can use our knowledge of which industries include slave labor and pair it with satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to track down slavers and bring them to justice.</p><p>For example, AP's <a href="https://www.ap.org/explore/seafood-from-slaves/" target="_blank">Pulitzer-winning reporting</a> uncovered a vast slave network onboard fishing boats off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Although many of these ships were raided and hundreds of slaves were freed, other ships managed to escape. Its not too difficult to evade capture in the open ocean, but <a href="https://apnews.com/c2fe8406ff7145a8b484deae3f748aa5" target="_blank">DigitalGlobe</a> — a satellite company that provides Google Earth imagery — tracked down the rogue ships.</p><p>DigitalGlobe has also engaged in an effort to track slavery in fishing ships on Ghana's <a href="https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=553180f8be4e40eb9e3caf8f28d25ba5" target="_blank">Lake Volta</a>. By inviting the public to pour through their satellite data, more than 80,000 ships, buildings, and fishing cages believed to be related to 35,000 enslaved children in the region have been tagged and mapped. As CEO Jeff Tarr stated, "You can't hide from space."</p><p>Satellite imagery has <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/10/23/satellites-reveal-child-slave-camps-in-unesco-protected-park-in/" target="_blank">uncovered slave labor</a> in the Sundarbans mangrove forest in Bangladesh, where children clear the mangrove forests — critical to the ecosystem in that part of the world — as part of their forced labor processing fish. Still other work is being undertaken to observe mining sites that use slave labor, as well as numerous other industries where <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/mar/19/experts-fight-slavery-satellite-pictures-south-asia-brick-belt" target="_blank">slavery is commonplace</a>.</p>
A new approach<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTIyMTEwNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjYxODA1N30.3A0mOhvII-6kqAq7I943nwgGhiXCQ1xsiJz25ICa9k4/img.jpg?width=980" id="f6384" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b664cb5c37f045b1dfb011d3fa75b6b3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The region known as the "Brick Belt," where slave labor is frequently used, is outlined in red.
Boyd et al., 2018<p>While these attempts are all laudable, they represent just the beginning of a new satellite-based strategy to combat slavery. One of the biggest leap forward in the use of satellites to fight slavery is being undertaken by Doreen Boyd of the Rights Lab at Nottingham University. Her work focuses on the so-called "Brick Belt" that stretches crosses Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. This part of the world contains a large number of brick kilns. In the India region of the Brick Belt alone, an estimated 70 percent of brick kilns use slave labor.</p><p>In Boyd's <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924271618300479" target="_blank">previous work</a>, she used crowdsourcing and satellite data to gain an estimate of the number of brick kilns in the region. The number she reached was 55,387 kilns, a significant portion of which utilize slave labor, if expert estimates are to be believed.</p>
Results from an AI trained to identify brick kilns. The proposed brick kilns are surrounded by yellow boxes.
Foody et al., 2019<p>This is useful work: the problem of slavery can't be tackled in the region without identifying their locations, and one of these kilns has already been raided, resulting the freedom of 24 slaves. But more work is needed. Her previous study didn't identify the locations of all brick kilns, only a sample, and the region is too large to pore through manually. Crowdsourcing takes time and resources to complete and verify, and even if all brick kilns in the region were investigated, more would surely crop up in the future. Therefore, Boyd began to work on <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-4292/11/3/266" target="_blank">developing an A.I.</a> that could identify brick kilns automatically from satellite data.</p><p>Machine-learning algorithms like the one Boyd used work by having humans "teach" the algorithm what it's looking for. Humans first tagged brick kilns from a small sample of satellite imagery; these are often circular or oval-shaped with a large chimney in the center. This sample was then fed to the machine-learning algorithm. Then, using the patterns identified by humans, the algorithm searched through other satellite data and pointed out places that matched the pattern. If the algorithm mistakenly selected areas that merely resemble brick kilns, those were used to refine the algorithm, teaching it what may a brick kiln is not.</p><p>In the small slice of the Brick Belt that Boyd and colleagues analyzed, their machine-learning algorithm identified 95.08 percent of the brick kilns in the region. While missing any potential sites of slavery — even just 5 percent — is a serious issue, the algorithm can be tweaked to overestimate the number of brick kilns. The advantage of this approach is that, although it would select many regions that were not brick kilns, it wouldn't miss any actual brick kilns either.</p>