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Methane in the Climate System: Monitoring Emissions from Satellites

The climate forcing from methane emissions since pre-industrial times has been 60% of that from CO2, meaning that methane has made a large contribution to observed warming over the past century. However, the climate impact of methane emissions is very different than that of CO2 emissions in terms of time scales, and this must be recognized when setting climate policy targets: use of a single climate metric to compare the effects of methane and CO2 emissions is not appropriate. An additional complication is that methane is emitted by a variety of sources, and there is large uncertainty in the contribution of different source regions and sectors to the overall methane budget. The recent decadal uptick in methane has generated much interest and is still unexplained. Satellites offer considerable potential for global monitoring of methane emissions, quantifying the contributions from different sources, detecting temporal variability, and attributing long-term trends. Atmospheric methane has been measured continuously from space since 2003, and new instruments have been recently launched or are planned for launch in the near future that will greatly expand the capabilities of space-based observations. I will discuss the value of these observations to better quantify and monitor methane emissions, from the global scale down to the scale of point sources.

Daniel J. Jacob is the Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Harvard University. He received his B.S. (1981) in Chemical Engineering from the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et Chimie Industrielles (ESPCI), and his Ph.D. (1985) in Environmental Engineering from Caltech. He went to Harvard as a postdoc in 1985 and joined the faculty in 1987. His research covers a range of topics in atmospheric chemistry. He has led the development of the GEOS-Chem global 3-D model of atmospheric composition, has served as Mission Scientist on eight NASA aircraft missions, and is a member of several satellite Science Teams. Among his professional honors are the AGU Charney Lecture (2016), the ECMWF Fellowship (2016), the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal (2003), the AGU Macelwane Medal (1994) and the Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering (1989). Jacob has published about 400 papers (H-Factor of 110 according to Web of Science) and trained over 90 Ph.D. students and postdocs over the course of his career. When not doing science he likes to hang out in the White Mountains of New Hampshire or at his family estate in Brittany.

A NASA JPL Center for Climate Sciences forum recorded September 4, 2018.

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