NASA Space Missions Pinpoint Sources of CO2 Emissions on Earth
In the recent study, researchers used space-based measurements from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) 2 and 3 missions to quantify the carbon dioxide discharged hundreds of miles below at Bełchatów Power Station in Poland, the largest single emitter in Europe. Analyzing the plant’s emission plumes from several satellite overpasses between 2017 and 2022, they detected changes in carbon dioxide levels that were consistent with hourly fluctuations in electricity generation. Temporary and permanent unit shutdowns (for maintenance or decommissioning) reduced the plant’s overall emissions, which the team was able to detect as well. Emissions from large facilities such as power plants and refineries account for about half of global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Bełchatów Power Station, in operation since 1988, is the largest lignite-fired power plant in the world, with a repod capacity of 5,102 megawatts. Lignite (brown coal) typically leads to higher emissions per megawatt generated than anthracite (hard coal). Ray Nassar, a senior researcher at Environment and Climate Change Canada and the study’s lead author, noted that most carbon dioxide emissions reports are created from estimates or data collected at the land surface. Researchers account for the mass of fossil fuels purchased and used, then calculate the expected emissions; they generally do not make actual atmospheric carbon dioxide measurements.