Automated detection and monitoring of methane super-emitters using satellite data

Berend J. Schuit*, Joannes D. Maasakkers, Pieter Bijl, Gourav Mahapatra, Anne Wil Van Den Berg, Sudhanshu Pandey, Alba Lorente, Tobias Borsdorff, Sander Houweling, Daniel J. Varon, Jason McKeever, Dylan Jervis, Marianne Girard, Itziar Irakulis-Loitxate, Javier Gorroño, Luis Guanter, Daniel H. Cusworth, Ilse Aben

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


A reduction in anthropogenic methane emissions is vital to limit near-term global warming. A small number of so-called super-emitters is responsible for a disproportionally large fraction of total methane emissions. Since late 2017, the TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) has been in orbit, providing daily global coverage of methane mixing ratios at a resolution of up to 7×5.5 km2, enabling the detection of these super-emitters. However, TROPOMI produces millions of observations each day, which together with the complexity of the methane data, makes manual inspection infeasible. We have therefore designed a two-step machine learning approach using a convolutional neural network to detect plume-like structures in the methane data and subsequently apply a support vector classifier to distinguish the emission plumes from retrieval artifacts. The models are trained on pre-2021 data and subsequently applied to all 2021 observations. We detect 2974 plumes in 2021, with a mean estimated source rate of 44 t h-1 and 5-95th percentile range of 8-122 t h-1. These emissions originate from 94 persistent emission clusters and hundreds of transient sources. Based on bottom-up emission inventories, we find that most detected plumes are related to urban areas and/or landfills (35 %), followed by plumes from gas infrastructure (24 %), oil infrastructure (21 %), and coal mines (20 %). For 12 (clusters of) TROPOMI detections, we tip and cue the targeted observations and analysis of high-resolution satellite instruments to identify the exact sources responsible for these plumes. Using high-resolution observations from GHGSat, PRISMA, and Sentinel-2, we detect and analyze both persistent and transient facility-level emissions underlying the TROPOMI detections. We find emissions from landfills and fossil fuel exploitation facilities, and for the latter, we find up to 10 facilities contributing to one TROPOMI detection. Our automated TROPOMI-based monitoring system in combination with high-resolution satellite data allows for the detection, precise identification, and monitoring of these methane super-emitters, which is essential for mitigating their emissions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9071-9098
Number of pages28
JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics
Issue number16
Early online date19 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2023


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