VIIRS Detection of Nightlights and Greenhouse Gases from Natural-Gas Flaring

Map of the United States showing VIIRS detection of nightlights. Image Credit: DEVELOP

Image Credit: DEVELOP

Authors: Allison Lanclos, Rebekah King, Elizabeth Thompson, Amber Jones, Christian Monlezun

Mentors/Advisers (affiliation): Joseph Spruce (Computer Sciences Corporation, Stennis Space Center)

Team Location: Stennis Space Center, Mississippi

Abstract: Flaring, the intentional burning of excess or contaminated gas during the acquisition and processing of petroleum products, is potentially detrimental to health and is a contributor to global warming. Flaring is distinct from another common disposal method referred to as venting. Even though it is considered to be less hazardous than venting, flaring involves combustion which is almost never efficient. Gas flares emit many greenhouse gases, including but not limited to, nitrous dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2). Nitrogen oxides (NOx), often formed with the reaction of atmospheric gas and flare products, can contribute to tropospheric ozone formation and behave as a greenhouse gas. Although the Energy Information Administration (EIA) gathers statistics regarding flaring volumes, current U.S. policies are limited, and reporting routine flaring events is voluntary. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is actively involved in global gas-flare monitoring through the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). For more than four decades, NOAA and the DMSP have derived global Earth data to include estimates of gas-flaring volumes based on measurements from an array of sensory-loaded satellites. It is the joint mission of NOAA and NASA to begin launching a series of operational environmental satellites that will replace and provide continuity for the DMSP and other Earth observation instruments. In an effort to provide risk assessment and validation of calibrated and geo-located global imaging for the nation’s next generation Earth Observing System (EOS), the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) launched the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environment Satellite System Preparatory Project, otherwise known as NPOESS Preparatory Project or NPP. This project was both a technology demonstration and a feasibility study that explored the potential of the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, (VIIRS), a sensor aboard the Suomi NPP spacecraft, to generate data which would allow more accurate estimates of gas-flare emissions in the targeted areas of interest.