Detecting and mitigating methane super-emitters

Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences
Weekly Colloquium

Joint Seminar with UArizona's Earth Dynamics Observatory

Thursday, April 30, 2020
4 pm via Zoom, no in-person meeting
Zoom socializing before talk ~3:30-4:00 pm & after talk ~5:00-6:00 pm
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Riley Duren
UA Research Scientist, Office for Research, Innovation, and Impact


Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and a precursor for tropospheric ozone, as well as an important near-term energy source. It is a priority for climate mitigation efforts by many countries and an increasing number of subnational governments and private companies. However, the causes for observed changes in the atmospheric growth rate of methane remain poorly understood and there is compelling evidence of higher than predicted fugitive methane emissions across many economic sectors including energy, waste management, and agriculture. Multiple studies have exposed a long-tail distribution of methane emissions associated with a relatively small fraction of sources that dominate the emissions of key sectors and regions, suggesting potential low-hanging fruit for climate action. These “super-emitters” are often stochastic, highly intermittent and distributed over large areas – complicating efforts to detect and mitigate them.  Recent advances in atmospheric measurements using a variety of techniques and vantage points together with data science offer the potential to dramatically advance methane mitigation. In this talk I will summarize findings from the first systematic surveys of methane super-emitters using remote sensing technology and provide some perspectives on future research and policy directions. I will also present case studies where collaborative efforts with facility operators and local agencies in California directly resulted in measurable mitigation. Finally, I will describe efforts to launch a constellation of climate satellites, a new airborne science program, and potential transdisciplinary carbon center at UA.


Riley Duren recently joined the University of Arizona’s Office for Research, Innovation, and Impact as a Research Scientist. He also maintains a joint appointment as an Engineering Fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His NASA experience to date has included roles on nine earth and space science missions (with the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and Kepler being personal favorites). From 2008 to 2019 he served as Chief Systems Engineer for JPL’s Earth Science Directorate, supporting a wide range of satellite and airborne missions, research and applied science programs. His own research applies multi-scale earth observations and the emerging discipline of science systems engineering to inform societal responses to climate change. He is Principal Investigator of the California Methane Survey and Methane Source Finder projects and Program Executive for a new public-private partnership developing a constellation of small satellites to support climate and conservation action. Read a recent UA News repost of a JPL press release regarding a paper published in Nature in November 2019, A Third of California Methane Traced to a Few Super-Emitters.