Carbon dioxide emission plumes from a large power station detected from space

Researchers at the Finnish Meteorological Institute developed a new methodology to derive source-specific NOₓ-to-CO₂ emission ratios using satellite observations. The method was applied to Matimba power station in South Africa. The results can be used to estimate carbon dioxide emissions.

Since the Paris agreement was adopted in 2015, the role of satellite observations in understanding anthropogenic CO2 emissions has become increasingly important. Currently, the NASA’s CO2 instrument Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2), launched in 2014, provides CO2 observations with the best coverage and resolution. However, the observations are obtained on a narrow swath (less than 10 km), which does allow the detection of the cross-sections of the emission plumes, but not the plumes in their entirety. Satellite observations of co-emitted species, such as NO2, facilitate the detection of the CO2 emission plumes. The European Commission is currently planning a new CO2 monitoring mission CO2M via the Copernicus Programme, which will observe both CO2 and NO2 over a larger swath (over 250 km).

Estimating CO2 emissions from individual sources using satellite data can be challenging due to the large background levels, while it is easier for short-lived gases like NO2. In a recently published study, a new methodology to calculate source-specific NOₓ-to-CO₂ emission ratio from satellite observations is developed. This ratio provides information on how clean the employed technology is and can be used to convert NOₓ emission into CO2 emission. The method was tested for the Matimba power station in South Africa, which is an optimal case study as it is a large emission source with several satellite overpasses, and it is also well isolated from other sources.

OCO-2 and TROPOMI observations near Matimba power station (red triangle) in South Africa between May 2018 and November 2020. Image: Hakkarainen et al. 2021. CC BY 4.0.


The results are based on the CO2 observations from the NASA’s OCO-2 satellite and the NO2 retrievals from the European TROPOMI (TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument), operating onboard the Sentinel 5 Precursor satellite since late 2017. During the 2018–2020 period, 14 collocations over Matimba enabled the simultaneous detection of the CO2 and NO2 plumes. The mean NOx-to-CO2 emission ratio was estimated as (2.6 ± 0.6) × 10⁻³ and the CO2 emission as 60 kton/day. The obtained CO₂ emission estimates are similar to those reported in existing inventories such as ODIAC.

The research was carried on in the DACES project, which focuses on detecting anthropogenic CO₂ emissions sources by exploiting the synergy between satellite-based observations of short-lived polluting gases (such as NO₂) and greenhouse gases.

The full publication by Hakkarainen and co-authors can be found at the following link: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aeaoa.2021.100110

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