Making methane visible


Methane (CH4) is one of the most important greenhouse gases, and an important energy carrier in biogas and natural gas. Its large-scale emission patterns have been unpredictable and the source and sink distributions are poorly constrained. Remote assessment of CH4 with high sensitivity at a m2 spatial resolution would allow detailed mapping of the near-ground distribution and anthropogenic sources in landscapes but has hitherto not been possible. Here we show that CH4 gradients can be imaged on the <m2 scale at ambient levels (1.8 ppm) and filmed using optimized infrared (IR) hyperspectral imaging. Our approach allows both spectroscopic confirmation and quantification for all pixels in an imaged scene simultaneously. It also has the ability to map fluxes for dynamic scenes. This approach to mapping boundary layer CH4 offers a unique potential way to improve knowledge about greenhouse gases in landscapes and a step towards resolving source–sink attribution and scaling issues.

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Figure 1: Outdoor detection and quantification of controlled CH4 release.
Figure 2: Image of CH4-rich air vented from a barn with 18 cows inside (one cube, acquisition time 99 s).
Figure 3: Spectra of pixels in and outside of the barn outflow (Fig. 2).
Figure 4: Imaging of CH4 flowing from a waste incineration plant chimney (40 cubes, acquisition time 14.3 min).
Figure 5: Map of CH4 release from a sewage sludge deposit (24 cubes, acquisition time 16.3 min).


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This study was funded by an instrument grant from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (ref no. KAW 2010.0126) to the authors and by a grant from the Swedish Research Council VR to D.B. (ref. no. VR 2012-48). We thank the camera production team at Telops Quebec City, Canada, for their great interest, for committing exceptional expertise in the hardware development, and for invaluable support. We also thank H. Reyier (Linköping University) for practical assistance and P. Falkenström and R. Sahlée for help with accessing measurement locations.

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G.O. generated the initial idea which was developed together with D.B., M.G., and P.C. D.B. led the fundraising with help from M.G., P.C. and G.O. M.G. led the practical imaging work, performed image analyses, and made the spectroscopic and radiative transfer models. M.G. and D.B. led the writing of the paper, with all authors contributing to manuscript development.

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Correspondence to Magnus Gålfalk.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Gålfalk, M., Olofsson, G., Crill, P. et al. Making methane visible. Nature Clim Change 6, 426–430 (2016).

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