Carbon Mapper: The Future of Technology

Carbon Mapper, a new nonprofit organisation, and its collaborators – the State of California, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL), Planet, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University (ASU), High Tide Foundation, and RMI – have announced a ground-breaking initiative to increase awareness of global methane and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and accelerate reductions.

Carbon Mapper, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose goal is to provide and direct the implementation of digital public goods that enable timely action to reduce human impacts on the Earth’s environment and ecosystems. Carbon Mapper has assembled a strong, unique alliance of private and public-sector players with the combined expertise and capital to deploy a science-driven, long-term, and operational decision support service for full impact. Planet, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the State of California, the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, RMI, and their charitable supporters are some of their collaborators.

A wide range of measures to accelerate methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) mitigation, climate adaptation, and conservation are desperately required. High costs are included for detecting methane leaks, gaps in self-reported CO2 data for key emission industries, insufficient measurements for priority regions at scales appropriate for decision making, and a lack of data accessibility and accountability are among the obstacles. Using advanced remote sensing technologies, their airborne pilot projects are demonstrating the potential for an operational satellite data service that can help speed up sub national climate action. They want to take the following measures:

  1. At the facility scale, they consistently pinpoint, measure, and monitor high methane and CO2 emissions.
  2. Provide facility owners and regulators with a rapid methane leak detection service.
  3.  Provide unbiased data to aid in the certification of methane intensity in oil and gas supply chains.
  4. Increase global methane and CO2 data accessibility, openness, and understanding.
  5. Increase global methane and CO2 data accessibility, openness, and understanding.

Carbon Mapper will provide technological assistance to end-users in order to maximize the effect of the data, in addition to adding data on high emission methane and CO2 point sources to the growing global ecosystem of observing systems. They plan to engage a wide range of stakeholders in order to better understand their needs, improve Carbon Mapper’s responsiveness to those needs, and assist them in incorporating advanced remote sensing data into decision-making. “These homegrown satellites have the potential to change the game. They give California a strong, cutting-edge tool to help us reduce emissions of the super-pollutant methane both within and outside our borders. California Governor Gavin Newsom says, “That’s just the kind of dynamic, forward-thinking approach we need now to solve the existential crisis of climate change.”

The two most common anthropogenic (human-caused) climate-forcing agents are methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2). CH4 is also important in air-quality research and applications because it is a precursor for tropospheric ozone and is closely related to co-emit reactive trace gases that can damage human health. The Global Carbon Project’s estimates summarise the global CH4 and CO2 “budgets.” Anthropogenic emissions of CH4 and fuel CO2 from a population of spatially condensed point sources that occur over vast areas and diverse socio-economic sectors, frequently in an uncertain manner, have a significant impact on atmospheric growth rates. In many parts of the world, estimates of CH4 and CO2 emissions at the scale of individual facilities, as well as their root causes, remain highly uncertain; better scientific understanding, reliable reporting, and actionable mitigation guidance are all required. NASA’s high-resolution CH4 and CO2 simulations show how local pollution can easily become a global problem.

If the window for limiting global warming closes, new technology that can rapidly and reliably quantify greenhouse gas emissions around the world are urgently needed. Current methods for measuring methane and CO2 emissions at the scale of individual facilities – particularly intermittent operation – face significant challenges in terms of transparency, precision, scalability, and cost. Robbie Schingler, who is Planet co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer said that “The Carbon Mapper consortium is a novel multi-stakeholder partnership where each actor is an expert in their own domain that allows for us to do more than we can alone. Planet is proud to be the commercial and technology partner to deliver needed data for climate action while accelerating humanity toward a more efficient, sustainable global economy.”

Several NASA-funded projects, including the Carbon Monitoring System (CMS), ACCESS, and Advanced Information Systems Technology (AIST), have contributed to the advancement of their data systems and underlying algorithms. The accuracy, reliability, and utility of methane and CO2 data products and analytics have all improved as a result of these projects. Several of these projects are still running, and they intend to incorporate the latest developments into a Carbon Mapper global data portal. They’ve also given some of this technology to the California Air Resources Board, which will use it to support their own methane data portal for the state.

Carbon Mapper aims to contribute to the growing network of organisations that provide science-based advice to decision-makers at all levels of society. It builds on Satellites for Climate Action, a 2019 initiative that brought together governments, philanthropists, conservation groups, and technology companies to use satellite technologies to track greenhouse gas emissions.

Shireen Dargan
Author: Shireen Dargan

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