Methane was once considered a supporting player in global warming, but a combination of new technology and advanced understanding of the greenhouse gas has brought it into the spotlight. Over the course of just 20 years, methane can have roughly 80 times the warming impact of the same amount of carbon dioxide over the short term. The gas, which is a byproduct of modern-day manufacturing, oil refineries, landfills, livestock (though belching by cows) and more, accounts for about 30 percent of global warming today.
Hugo, Iris and a growing complement of public and private sentries orbiting overhead and scheduled for launch have opened a new era of fighting the climate crisis by tracking methane leaks from landfills, pipelines and mines. The new generation of satellites will allow better measurements of such leaks over time and help the public hold countries and corporations accountable to their promises to reduce greenhouse gasses.
“The new wave of satellite monitoring capability has major implications for industry and governments,” wrote a team of Columbia University researchers in a report in 2020. “Our world is rapidly becoming a place in which methane emissions will have nowhere to hide.”