Science 4 min read

GOSAT and Other Greenhouse Gas Observing Satellites

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

To call global warming or climate change catastrophe would be a huge understatement! The climate disruption shaking the world is of such scale and impact unprecedented in Earth’s long history.

In the face of this existential risk, science has always been our first and last line of defense.

Other than providing evidence of climate change, scientists are exploring solutions to mitigate this environmental chaos in the making — for instance, alternative energy sources and carbon capture technologies.

Numerous scientific and technological advancements over the years have allowed scientists to build satellites that are highly efficient in monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.

GOSAT, First Greenhouse Gasses Observing Satellite

Nicknamed “IBUKI” (Japanese for “breath” or “puff”), GOSAT was launched on January 23rd, 2009 as the first-ever spacecraft dedicated to tracking greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Since its launch, GOSAT has continuously measured the concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane, two gases that account for over 80% of the total global warming effect caused by greenhouse gases.

Thanks to GOSAT’s observational data, scientists can now track the global distribution of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere. Also, GOSAT data shows “how the sources and sinks of these gases vary with seasons, years, and locations.”

“These new findings will serve as fundamental information for improving climate change prediction and establishing sound plans for mitigating global warming.”

The GOSAT project is a collaboration between Japan’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE), the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

To act on climate change, we may not have the leeway we think we have.

At this stage, any initiative — from global and government-level — aiming to curb the use of fossil fuels and cut emissions is welcome.

One of the practical solutions would be pinpointing polluters and carbon emitters, down to individuals. In this regard, greenhouse gas-monitoring satellites will be of great help.

Greenhouse Gas-Hunting Satellites

Thanks to the miniaturization of sensors and the increasing speed of data transmission, satellite technology has become more accessible today than it was ten years ago.

Now, a decade after GOSAT was launched, governments and organizations are preparing to deploy a fleet of over a dozen GHG-monitoring satellites

“Space-based technologies are allowing us for the first time to quickly and cheaply measure greenhouse gases,” said Mark Brownstein, a senior vice president at Environmental Defense Fund.

“Oftentimes, both government and industry are not fully aware of the magnitude of the opportunity to cut emissions. With that data, they can take action.”

A nonprofit advocacy group headquartered in New York, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is planning to launch a new satellite called MethaneSAT. Set to launch in 2021, MethaneSAT spacecraft is designed to measure methane emissions worldwide.

There are many other public and private Earth-observing satellite projects around the world. Some examples are ESA’s Sentinel-5 Precursor and the Candian startup GHGSat Inc., which intends to deploy a constellation of satellites for monitoring global gas emissions.

As Yotam Ariel, the founder of the satellite company Bluefield Technologies Inc., puts it:

“Seeing exactly who is emitting what, where, how much and when is a must in order to reduce emissions and stop climate change.”

Bluefield is planning to launch its first spacecraft by the end of next year. It’s set to offer “precise and scalable” methane monitoring via microsatellites.

Another satellite startup entering the field is the San Francisco-based Orbital Sidekick Inc., which is establishing its space network of “hyperspectral sensors” to monitor leaks in the energy sector.

Read More: ESA’s Sentinel-5P Instrument Shows the Scale of Air Pollution on Earth

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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