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Greenhouse Gases: New Infrared Camera Makes Methane Visible

Dec 01, 2015 05:46 PM EST

Scientists may have a new method for measuring greenhouse gas emissions, according to researchers from Linköping and Stockholm Universities. It turns out an advanced camera can actually photograph and film methane in the air around us, which could be useful for monitoring increasing levels of the dangerous gas.

"The camera is very sensitive, which means that the methane is both visible and measureable close to ground level, with much higher resolution than previously. Being able to measure on a small scale is crucial," Magnus Gålfalk, leader of the recent study and an assistant professor at Tema Environmental Change, Linköping University, explained in a news release.

Many concerns have been raised in terms of the powerful, yet irregular, greenhouse gas methane. However, using the newly developed camera, researchers can now get a better understanding of sources and sinks of methane in landscapes, from which they may find answers to some of the pivotal questions.

The newly developed, advanced hyperspectral infrared camera weighs 35 kilos and measures 50 centimeters long, 45 centimeters wide and 25 centimeters high, researchers explained in their study. It is designed to measure the same radiation that methane absorbs, which makes the greenhouse gas so powerful in terms of climatic impacts. When testing the camera in a variety of environments, it proved successful at measuring emissions from sewage sludge deposits, combustion processes, farm animal care and lakes.

So how can researchers distinguish methane gas in a photograph or video? Basically, the camera records a high-resolution spectrum from each pixel of an image. This process makes it possible to quantify the methane separately from other gases.  

"This gives us new possibilities for mapping and monitoring methane sources and sinks, and it will help us understand how methane emissions are regulated and how we can reduce emissions. So far the camera has been used from the ground and now we're working to make it airborne for more large-scale methane mapping," David Bastviken, one of the study researchers and a professor at Tema Environmental Change, Linköping University, added in the release.

Their findings were recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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