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Bay Journal: Satellites, Drones Join Fight Against Air Pollution in Pennsylvania

June 12, 2023
Carbon Mapper, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the Alliance collaborate to locate “super emitters” in Pennsylvania.

“In the summer of 2021, a twin-engine special research aircraft took off from State College, PA. Over three weeks, the plane flew 10,000–28,000 feet over oil and gas wells, landfills and coal mines in four regions of the state. The mission was to pinpoint sources of high levels of methane gas, or “super emitters,” for the nonprofit group Carbon Mapper and its funding partner, U.S. Climate Alliance.


From a hole cut in the belly of the plane, they trained a camera-like device developed by NASA — an imaging spectrometer — that uses light wavelengths to pick up escaping plumes of methane. Methane emissions are the second-largest cause of global warming after carbon dioxide, and controlling them is increasingly considered a key to arresting climate change.


Methane is invisible to the naked eye. But spectrometers, and devices like them, detect and measure the infrared energy of objects. The cameras then convert that data into a three-dimensional electronic image.


For the 2021 aerial probe, Carbon Mapper targeted areas of generally high methane levels that the organization had previously located using readings from space satellites operated by the European Space Agency.


During the flights, the researchers found 63 super emitters. Most, they concluded, were the results of leaks and malfunctioning equipment.”

About the Alliance

Launched on June 1, 2017 by the governors of Washington, New York, and California to help fill the void left by the previous administration’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the Alliance has grown to include 24 governors from across the U.S. representing approximately 60% of the U.S. economy and 55% of the U.S. population. Governors in the Alliance have pledged to collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025, at least 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030, and collectively achieve overall net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as practicable, and no later than 2050.


The Alliance’s states and territories continue to demonstrate that climate action goes hand-in-hand with economic growth, job creation, and better public health. While reducing emissions by 18% between 2005 and 2021, Alliance members grew their collective GDP by nearly 30%. The coalition’s states and territories are employing more workers in the clean energy sector, achieving lower levels of dangerous air pollutants, and preparing more effectively for climate impacts and executing more pre-disaster planning than the rest of the country.