12 Oct 2023
 | 12 Oct 2023

First validation of high-resolution satellite-derived methane emissions from an active gas leak in the UK

Emily Dowd, Alistair J. Manning, Bryn Orth-Lashley, Marianne Girard, James France, Rebecca E. Fisher, Dave Lowry, Mathias Lanoisellé, Joseph R. Pitt, Kieran M. Stanley, Simon O'Doherty, Dickon Young, Glen Thistlethwaite, Martyn P. Chipperfield, Emanuel Gloor, and Chris Wilson

Abstract. Atmospheric methane (CH4) is the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas and has a 20-year global warming potential 82 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2). Anthropogenic sources account for ~60 % of global CH4 emissions, of which 20 % come from oil & gas exploration, production and distribution. High-resolution satellite-based imaging spectrometers are becoming important tools for detecting and monitoring CH4 point source emissions, aiding mitigation. However, validation of these satellite measurements, such as those from the commercial GHGSat satellite constellation, has so far not been documented for active leaks. Here we present the monitoring and quantification, by GHGSat’s satellites, of the CH4 emissions from an active gas leak from a downstream natural gas distribution pipeline near Cheltenham, UK in Spring/Summer 2023, and provide the first validation of the satellite-derived emission estimates using surface-based mobile greenhouse gas surveys. We also use a Lagrangian transport model, NAME, to estimate the flux from both satellite and ground-based observation methods and assess the leak’s contribution to observed concentrations at a local tall tower site (30 km away). We find GHGSat’s emission estimates to be in broad agreement with those made from the in-situ measurements. During the study period (March–June 2023) GHGSat’s emission estimates are 236–1357 kg CH4 hr-1 whereas the mobile surface measurements are 886–998 kg CH4 hr-1. The large variation is likely down to variations in flow through the pipe and engineering works across the 11-week period. Modelled flux estimates in NAME are 181–1243 kg CH4 hr-1, ­which are lower than the satellite- and mobile survey-derived fluxes but are within the uncertainty. After detecting the leak in March 2023, the local utility company was contacted, and the leak was fixed by mid-June 2023. Our results demonstrate that GHGSat’s observations can produce flux estimates that broadly agree with surface-based mobile measurements. Validating the accuracy of the information provided by targeted, high-resolution satellite monitoring shows how it can play an important role in identifying emission sources, including for unplanned fugitive releases that are inherently challenging to identify, track and estimate their impact and duration. Rapid access to such evidence to inform local action to address fugitive emission sources across the oil and gas supply chain could play a significant role in reducing the anthropogenic contribution to climate change. 

Emily Dowd et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2246', Anonymous Referee #1, 09 Nov 2023
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2246', Anonymous Referee #2, 27 Nov 2023

Emily Dowd et al.


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Short summary
We provide the first validation of the satellite-derived emission estimates using surface-based mobile greenhouse gas surveys of an active gas leak detected near Cheltenham, UK. GHGSat’s emission estimates broadly agree with the surface based mobile survey and step were taken to fix the leak, highlighting the importance of satellite data in identifying emissions and helping to reduce our human impact on climate change.