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Airborne methane remote measurements reveal heavy-tail flux distribution in Four Corners region

Frankenberg, Christian and Thorpe, Andrew K. and Thompson, David R. and Hulley, Glynn and Kort, Eric Adam and Vance, Nick and Borchardt, Jakob and Krings, Thomas and Gerilowski, Konstantin and Sweeney, Colm and Conley, Stephen and Bue, Brian D. and Aubrey, Andrew D. and Hook, Simon and Green, Robert O. (2016) Airborne methane remote measurements reveal heavy-tail flux distribution in Four Corners region. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 113 (35). pp. 9734-9739. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC5024631. doi:10.1073/pnas.1605617113.

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Methane (CH_4) impacts climate as the second strongest anthropogenic greenhouse gas and air quality by influencing tropospheric ozone levels. Space-based observations have identified the Four Corners region in the Southwest United States as an area of large CH_4 enhancements. We conducted an airborne campaign in Four Corners during April 2015 with the next-generation Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (near-infrared) and Hyperspectral Thermal Emission Spectrometer (thermal infrared) imaging spectrometers to better understand the source of methane by measuring methane plumes at 1- to 3-m spatial resolution. Our analysis detected more than 250 individual methane plumes from fossil fuel harvesting, processing, and distributing infrastructures, spanning an emission range from the detection limit ∼2 kg/h to 5 kg/h through ∼5,000 kg/h. Observed sources include gas processing facilities, storage tanks, pipeline leaks, and well pads, as well as a coal mine venting shaft. Overall, plume enhancements and inferred fluxes follow a lognormal distribution, with the top 10% emitters contributing 49 to 66% to the inferred total point source flux of 0.23 Tg/y to 0.39 Tg/y. With the observed confirmation of a lognormal emission distribution, this airborne observing strategy and its ability to locate previously unknown point sources in real time provides an efficient and effective method to identify and mitigate major emissions contributors over a wide geographic area. With improved instrumentation, this capability scales to spaceborne applications [Thompson DR, et al. (2016) Geophys Res Lett 43(12):6571–6578]. Further illustration of this potential is demonstrated with two detected, confirmed, and repaired pipeline leaks during the campaign.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Information CentralArticle
Frankenberg, Christian0000-0002-0546-5857
Thorpe, Andrew K.0000-0001-7968-5433
Thompson, David R.0000-0003-1100-7550
Kort, Eric Adam0000-0003-4940-7541
Sweeney, Colm0000-0001-9568-0050
Conley, Stephen0000-0001-6753-8962
Bue, Brian D.0000-0002-7856-3570
Green, Robert O.0000-0001-9447-3076
Additional Information:© 2016 National Academy of Sciences. Freely available online through the PNAS open access option. Edited by Gregory P. Asner, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, CA, and approved June 17, 2016 (received for review April 10, 2016). Published online before print August 15, 2016. We thank the AVIRIS-NG flight and instrument teams, including Michael Eastwood, Sarah Lundeen, Scott Nolte, Mark Helmlinger, and Betina Pavri. Didier Keymeulen and Joseph Boardman assisted with the real-time system. We also thank the HyTES flight and instrument teams, including Bjorn Eng, Jonathan Mihaly, Seth Chazanoff, and Bill Johnson. We thank the organizers and all the participants in the TOPDOWN campaign for the fruitful collaboration. We thank NASA Headquarters, in particular Jack Kaye, for funding this flight campaign, which augmented the overall Twin Otter Projects Defining Oil/Gas Well Emissions (TOPDOWN) campaign. J.B., T.K., and K.G. were funded by the state of Bremen and University of Bremen. E.A.K. and C.S. were supported, in part, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration AC4 program under Grant NA14OAR0110139. Author contributions: C.F. designed research; C.F., A.K.T., D.R.T., E.A.K., J.B., T.K., K.G., C.S., A.D.A., S.H., and R.O.G. performed research; C.F., A.K.T., D.R.T., G.H., N.V., J.B., T.K., S.C., and B.D.B. analyzed data; and C.F., A.K.T., and E.A.K. wrote the paper. The authors declare no conflict of interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. This article contains supporting information online at
Funding AgencyGrant Number
State of BremenUNSPECIFIED
University of BremenUNSPECIFIED
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)NA14OAR0110139
Subject Keywords:methane; Four Corners; remote sensing; heavy-tail
Issue or Number:35
PubMed Central ID:PMC5024631
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20160816-073005593
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Official Citation:Christian Frankenberg, Andrew K. Thorpe, David R. Thompson, Glynn Hulley, Eric Adam Kort, Nick Vance, Jakob Borchardt, Thomas Krings, Konstantin Gerilowski, Colm Sweeney, Stephen Conley, Brian D. Bue, Andrew D. Aubrey, Simon Hook, and Robert O. Green Airborne methane remote measurements reveal heavy-tail flux distribution in Four Corners region PNAS 2016 113 (35) 9734-9739; published ahead of print August 15, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1605617113
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:69639
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:16 Aug 2016 17:05
Last Modified:25 Apr 2022 22:52

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