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The methane hunters


英文部分选自经济学人 20200201 期科技版块

经济学人科技 || 甲烷猎手

Climate change


The methane hunters


Methane is an important cause of global warming. Tracking its sources is crucial


When scanning for emissions from a mud volcano in western Turkmenistan in January 2019, a satellite called Claire came across a large plume of methane drifting across the landscape. The discharge appeared to originate from a gas pipeline at the nearby Korpezhe oil and gasfield. Two more large plumes were also spotted in the area, including one from a compressor station. The company operating the satellite, GHGSAT, based in Montreal, passed details via diplomats to officials in Turkmenistan, and after a few months the leaks stopped. This largely unknown incident illustrates two things: that satellites can play an important role in spotting leaks of greenhouse gases and, rather worryingly, that the extent of such leaks is often greatly underestimated.

2019 年 1 月,“克莱尔”号卫星在扫描土库曼斯坦西部的一个泥火山的喷发物时,侦测到周围地区上空漂浮着大量甲烷气体。这些甲烷来源于邻近的库尔贝哲油气田的一条排气管道。该地区还发现包括来自压缩站内的两处大量的甲烷气体团。负责操作“克莱尔”号的蒙特利尔 GHGSAT 公司将卫星观察到的细节通过外交官员传递给土库曼斯坦官方,数月后,甲烷的泄漏停止。这起不为公众所知的事件说明了两件事:其一,卫星在侦查温室气体泄漏中可以发挥重要作用;其二,令人担忧的是,类似程度的气体泄漏常常被极大地低估。

The reason for concern is that although methane, the main constituent of natural gas, does not linger in the atmosphere for anywhere near as long as carbon dioxide does, it is a far more potent heat-trapping agent. About a quarter of man-made global warming is thought to be caused by methane. And between a fifth and a third of the methane involved is contributed by the oil and gas industry.

甲烷泄漏令人担忧是因为甲烷作为天然气的主要成分,尽管不会像二氧化碳那样长时间存在于大气层中,但是它具有更强的圈热能力。在所有引起全球变暖的人造温室气体中,甲烷大约占其中的四分之一,其中又有 1/5~1/3 来自油气业。

The data from Claire suggested the leak in Turkmenistan had been a big one. To establish just how big, Daniel Jacob of Harvard University and his colleagues studied the images obtained by this satellite along with observations made of the area at the time by the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument ( tropomi ), which is carried by an atmospheric research satellite operated by the European Space Agency. The results, published in Geophysical Research Letters in November 2019, concluded that between February 2018 and January 2019 the three leaks would have released, between them, 142,000 tonnes of methane. This made the Turkmenistani leak far bigger than the 97,000 tonnes of methane discharged over four months by a notorious blowout at a natural-gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon, California, in 2015, which is reckoned to have been the worst natural-gas leak yet recorded in America.

“克莱尔”号卫星数据表明,土库曼斯坦的甲烷泄漏量较大。为了计算甲烷的泄漏量,哈佛大学的丹尼尔·雅克比(Daniel Jacob)团队研究了卫星获得的图像以及对流层监测仪对该区域的监测内容,这些监测内容由欧洲太空总署管理的一颗大气研究卫星负责采集。2019 年 11 月,Geophysical Research Letters 期刊发表的该项研究结果表明,2018 年 2 月~2019 年 1 月间发生的三起泄漏共造成 142000 吨甲烷泄漏。2015 年,加利福尼亚州亚里索峡谷地区的一处天然气存储设施发生一起臭名昭著的甲烷泄漏事件,四个月的泄漏量高达 97000 吨,是美国历史记录上最为严重的一次。相比之下,2019 年土库曼斯坦的甲烷泄漏量要多得多。

There have been other big leaks, too. Last year a group of researchers led by Ilse Aben of the Netherlands Institute for Space Research studied tropomi images of a blowout at a natural-gas well in Belmont county, Ohio. This began on February 15th 2018 and took three weeks to control. In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2019, Dr Aben and her colleagues calculated from the images that the blowout was responsible for the equivalent of a quarter of the annual oil and gas industry’s methane emissions in the entire state of Ohio.

其他地区也发生过此类大泄漏事件。 去年,荷兰空间科学研究中心教授艾尔斯·阿本(Ilse Aben)带领一群研究人员研究了对流层监测仪监测到的俄亥俄州贝尔蒙特县天然气井喷图像。此次泄漏始于 2018 年 2 月 15 日,用了三周时间才得以控制下来。2019 年 12 月,在《美国国家科学院院刊》上发表的一篇论文中,阿本博士团队根据图像计算出,此次井喷事故的甲烷排放量相当于俄亥俄州所有石油和天然气行业年排放量的四分之一。

Methane can be detected spectroscopically. Like other gases, it absorbs light at characteristic frequencies. With a spectrometer mounted on a satellite it is possible to analyse light reflected from Earth for signs of the gas. As with the satellites that carry them, spectrometers come in many shapes and sizes. tropomi can also detect the spectral signs of other polluting gases, such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide. It rides in a large bird, the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, launched in October 2 017, and in all weighing 980kg. The detector has an extensive view, looking at a strip of Earth 2,600km wide with a resolution that means a single pixel in the image represents an area 7km by 3.5km.

甲烷可以通过光谱检测。和其他气体一样,甲烷也吸收特定频率的光线。因此只需将光谱仪安装在卫星上,便可以分析地球反射光来判定空气中的甲烷。与搭载的卫星一样,光谱仪的大小和形状也各不相同。除却甲烷,对流层监测仪还可以检测到诸如二氧化氮,二氧化硫以及一氧化碳等其他污染性气体的光谱。2017 年 10 月发射的哥白尼“哨兵-5P”卫星形如一只大鸟,搭载了重达 980 千克的对流层监测仪。检测仪的监测视野很大,涵盖了一块宽 2600 千米的带状区域,所摄图像中每单个像素就代表了地面 7 千米 x 3.5 千米的区域。

Observing things more closely is the speciality of Claire . This 15kg “nanosat”, about the size of a microwave oven, was launched in June 2016 to measure carbon dioxide and methane emissions. With a field of view 12km wide and a resolution better than 50 metres by 50 metres, Claire can spot leaks from inpidual industrial plants. ghgs at aims to launch two more methane-hunting nanosats later this year.

“克莱尔”号卫星擅于更为精确地监测事物。该卫星于 2016 年 6 月发射,重 15 千克,大小约相当于一个微波炉,用于测量二氧化碳和甲烷排放量,有“纳米卫星”之称。它的监测视野宽达 12 千米,分辨率高于 50 米 x 50 米,因此就连单个工厂的泄漏也难逃其法眼。GHGSAT 计划今年年底再发射两枚用于捕捉甲烷的纳米卫星。

Claire surveys industrial facilities on behalf of firms that want to monitor their emissions. GHGSAT’s chief executive, Stephane Germain, says employing satellites to do this is more reliable than using terrestrial methods. In November he plans to roll out a new service. This will provide a digital image of Earth which users will be able to zoom in on to explore continually updated patterns and hotspots of methane emissions. The map will have an average resolution of 2km by 2km and be free to use—al though if companies want to look at things more closely they will need to pay.

“克莱尔”号卫星可以为有意于监控自身排放的公司对其相关的工业设施进行监测。GHGSAT 的首席执行官斯蒂芬·杰曼 (Stephane Germain) 表示,使用卫星来做这件事比使用地面方法更可靠。他计划在 11 月推出一项新服务,这项服务将提供一张地球的数字图像,用户能够通过放大图像以了解不断更新的甲烷排放模式和排放热点。这张地图的平均分辨率为 2 千米 x 2 千米,而且可以免费使用——不过,如果公司想要更清晰的图像,就需要付出一笔费用。

Other methane-hunting satellites are coming. These include one due for launch in 2022 by MethaneSAT , an affiliate of the Environmental Defence Fund, an American non-profit organisation. The 350kg satellite will cost $88m to build and put into orbit. It will scan an area of land 200km wide with a resolution of 1km by 1km. According to MethaneSAT , it will be the most sensitive to emission levels yet, being able to detect methane concentrations as low as two parts-per-billion. Data collected by the satellite will be publicly available.

其他甲烷探测卫星也将陆续上天,其中包括一颗将于 2022 年由美国非营利组织环境保护基金的附属机构 Methane SAT 发射的卫星,建造这颗重达 350 公斤的卫星并将其送入轨道将耗资 8800 万美元。届时,它将以 1 千米 x 1 千米的分辨率对 200 千米宽的陆地区域进行监测。根据 Methane SAT 的说法,它将是迄今为止对甲烷排放量最敏感的卫星,能够检测到低至百万分之二的甲烷浓度。卫星收集的数据将向公众开放。

Having a number of complementary eyes-in-the sky will be an important way to help reduce methane emissions. Although Donald Trump has proposed rolling back Obama-era requirements for oil and gas companies to detect and fix methane leaks, the gas has commercial value so it does not make business sense to waste it. On top of that, for firms seeking to burnish their green credentials, plugging leaks is one of the most effective things they can do to help combat climate change.



Cindy,女,未来外贸工,TE 粉


Lecea, 坚信“腹有诗书气自华”的追梦 girl


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只要思想不滑坡,办法总比困难多。去年读过一篇文章,讲的是登月 50 周年。文章作者认为,在 50 年前这样的科技水平、生产力水平下,人类都能登月,为什么现在科技发达了,人们却没办法解决气候变化问题?总的来说,问题不在于“能不能”,而在于“想不想”。所以看到本文,我还是很高兴,因为这至少证明,我们既“能”,又“想”。





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