Single-blind validation of space-based point-source detection and quantification of onshore methane emissions
Satellites are increasingly seen as a tool for identifying large greenhouse gas point sources for mitigation, but independent verification of satellite performance is needed for acceptance and use by policy makers and stakeholders. We conduct to our knowledge the first single-blind controlled methane release testing of satellite-based methane emissions detection and quantification, with five independent teams analyzing data from one to five satellites each for this desert-based test. Teams correctly identified 71% of all emissions, ranging from 0.20 [0.19, 0.21] metric tons per hour (t/h) to 7.2 [6.8, 7.6] t/h. Three-quarters (75%) of quantified estimates fell within ± 50% of the metered value, comparable to airplane-based remote sensing technologies. The relatively wide-area Sentinel-2 and Landsat 8 satellites detected emissions as low as 1.4 [1.3, 1.5, 95% confidence interval] t/h, while GHGSat’s targeted system quantified a 0.20 [0.19, 0.21] t/h emission to within 13%. While the fraction of global methane emissions detectable by satellite remains unknown, we estimate that satellite networks could see 19–89% of total oil and natural gas system emissions detected in a recent survey of a high-emitting region.