Quantifying large methane emissions from the Nord Stream pipeline gas leak of September 2022 using IASI satellite observations and inverse modelling
Abstract. The sudden leaks from the Nord Stream gas pipelines, which began in September 2022, released a substantial amount of methane (CH4) into the atmosphere. From the IASI instrument onboard EUMETSAT’s MetOp-B, we document the first satellite-based retrievals of column-average CH4 (XCH4) that clearly show the large CH4 plume emitted from the pipelines. The data displays elevations greater than 200 parts per billion (ppb, ~11 %) above observed background values (1882 ± 21 ppb). Based on the IASI data, together with an integrated mass enhancement technique and formal model-based inversions applied for the first time to thermal infrared satellite methane plume data, we quantify the total mass of CH4 emitted to the atmosphere during the first two days of the leaks to be 215–390 Gg CH4. Substantial temporal heterogeneity is displayed in our model-derived flux rate, with three distinct peaks in emission rate over the first two days. Our range overlaps with other previous estimates, which were 75–230 Gg CH4 and were mostly based on inversions that assimilated in situ observations from nearby tower sites. However, our derived values are generally larger than those previous results, with the differences likely due to the fact that our results are the first to use satellite-based observations of XCH4 from the days following the leaks. We incorporate multiple satellite overpasses that monitored the CH4 plume as it was transported across Scandinavia and the North Sea up to the evening of the 28th September 2022. We produced model simulations of the atmospheric transport of the plume using the Eulerian atmospheric transport model, TOMCAT, which show good representation of the plume location in the days following the leaks. The simulated CH4 mixing ratios at three of the four nearby in situ measurement sites are larger than the observed in situ values by up to hundreds of ppb, which highlights the challenges inherent in representing short-term plume movement over a specific location using a model such as TOMCAT with a relatively coarse Eulerian grid. Our results confirm the leak of the Nord Stream pipes to clearly be the largest individual fossil fuel-related leak of CH4 on record, greatly surpassing the previous largest leak (95 Gg CH4) at the Aliso Canyon gas facility in California in 2015–16.
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