October 16, 2023

Navigating the Horizons of Methane Monitoring and TROPOMI Limitations

Dr. Mozhou Gao Explores Advancements and Limitations in Satellite Technologies for Methane Monitoring in the Oil and Gas Industry

Methane, a formidable greenhouse gas, significantly contributes to climate change. Monitoring oil and gas sector methane emissions is crucial for regulatory compliance and environmental sustainability. The advancement of methane monitoring technologies, specifically satellite systems like TROPOMI on the Sentinel-5P satellite, offers promising solutions for the oil and gas sector. However, as highlighted in a recent research paper co-authored by Dr. Mozhou Gao, Ph.D., affiliated with the Centre for Smart Emissions Sensing Technologies (SENST) at the University of Calgary, notable challenges require harnessing the full potential of such technologies.

Methane Emissions and Monitoring Challenges in the Oil and Gas Sector

Methane emissions, particularly from the oil and gas sector, are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing substantially to climate change.  Monitoring these emissions with high precision is imperative for regulatory compliance, environmental sustainability, and public health. However, conventional technologies are often limited by their spatial and temporal coverage of measuring methane emissions, necessitating advanced satellite monitoring systems adoption.

Despite the promise held by satellite technologies like TROPOMI, the monitoring challenges in tropical and high-latitude regions still need to be addressed. The atmospheric conditions in these regions, including cloud cover and solar zenith angle, significantly impede the observational capabilities of satellites, rendering the emission quantification result less precise. Furthermore, the spatial and temporal gap of TROPOMI over the tropical and high latitudes hinders the identification of even large emission sources, making it challenging to attribute emissions to specific facilities or operations within the oil and gas sector.

The research paper highlights the imperative for diversified monitoring solutions to overcome these challenges. It emphasizes the integration of satellite observations with ground-based monitoring systems and data analytics to achieve a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of methane emissions. The insights in the article underscore the essence of a multifaceted approach to methane monitoring, paving the way for more effective emissions reduction strategies in the oil and gas sector.

Key Insights into Methane Monitoring Technologies for Oil and Gas

The paper, co-authored by Dr. Mozhou Gao, delves deeply into the capabilities of the TROPOMI instrument on the Sentinel-5P satellite. Here are the key findings:

  1. Promising Coverage Over Drylands: TROPOMI exhibits promising observational coverage over dryland regions, crucial for monitoring global methane emissions from onshore oil and gas sectors.
  2. Limited Coverage in Tropical and High-Latitude Regions: Atmospheric conditions in these regions hinder the observational capabilities of TROPOMI, leading to limited coverage.
  3. Need to Coupled With Other Alternative Monitoring Methods: The limited coverage in certain regions necessitates exploring alternative monitoring methodologies to ensure comprehensive and accurate methane emissions monitoring.

The findings explained in the research paper drive home the critical necessity of advancing monitoring technologies for more precise and comprehensive tracking of methane emissions. The insights provided by TROPOMI's capabilities and limitations serve as a foundation for further technological innovations. The aim is to overcome the current hurdles in monitoring methane emissions, particularly in challenging geographical and climatic regions.

By improving methane monitoring technologies, we are enhancing data accuracy and empowering global efforts to curb methane emissions. This initiative resonates profoundly with the broader objective of mitigating climate change impacts and fostering a sustainable and environmentally responsible future, especially within the oil and gas sector.

Limitations of TROPOMI in Methane Emissions Detection for Oil and Gas Industries

The TROPOMI instrument, despite its cutting-edge technology, encounters several limitations:

  1. Coarse Spatial Resolution: The spatial resolution of TROPOMI hampers precise identification and quantification of methane emission sources, which is crucial for effective mitigation strategies.
  2. Performance Constraints: Various factors, including instrument parameters, atmospheric components, and land surface characteristics, impact TROPOMI's performance. These constraints affect observational coverage and data accuracy, especially in tropical and high-latitude regions.
  3. Observational Coverage: The instrument has less than satisfactory average annual observational coverage over onshore oil and gas infrastructure in seven of the top 10 oil and gas-producing countries, indicating a gap in monitoring capabilities.
  4. Identification of Large Emission Events: The article mentions difficulties in identifying significant emissions events, tracking their duration, and quantifying emissions rates, particularly in countries located in tropical and high-latitude regions.

These limitations underscore the pressing need for developing and integrating alternative or supplementary monitoring methods, particularly in the oil and gas industry, such as ground-based sensors or advanced satellite technologies, to enhance methane emissions monitoring across diverse geographic and climatic conditions globally, thereby contributing to more effective methane mitigation strategies.

Innovative Monitoring Solutions for Methane Emissions in the Oil and Gas Sector

The article emphasizes the need for diversified monitoring solutions. Here are expanded discussions on the proposed solutions:

  1. Enhanced Satellite Technologies:
  • Newer satellite technologies could offer higher spatial and temporal resolutions, enabling precise identification and quantification of emissions sources.
  • Satellite constellations could provide more frequent observations, improving the detection of ephemeral emission events.
  1. Ground-Based Monitoring:
  • Ground-based monitoring systems like sensor networks and remote sensing technologies could provide localized data.
  • Collaborations between satellite and ground-based monitoring could offer a multi-scale, comprehensive approach to emissions monitoring.
  1. Data Fusion:
  • Integrating data from diverse sources could help create a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of methane emissions.
  • Advanced analytics and machine learning algorithms could derive meaningful insights from the fused data.

These suggestions carve a strategic pathway towards tackling the identified challenges head-on. A more robust, reliable, and comprehensive methane monitoring framework can be established globally by advocating for the fusion of advanced satellite technologies with ground-based monitoring systems and enhancing data integration through sophisticated analytics. This propels the accuracy and efficiency of methane emissions monitoring and significantly contributes to the overarching goal of environmental sustainability, especially within the oil and gas industry.

Final Word

The exploratory work by Dr. Mozhou Gao and colleagues sheds light on the pivotal challenges and prospects in methane emissions monitoring. The identified limitations of TROPOMI underline the necessity for multifaceted monitoring solutions. By embracing enhanced satellite technologies, ground-based monitoring, and data fusion, a robust framework for global methane monitoring can be established. This endeavor aligns with the environmental sustainability goals and contributes significantly towards the global mission of mitigating climate change impacts, especially from the oil and gas sector.

About Dr. Mozhou Gao, Ph.D.

Dr. Mozhou Gao, Ph.D., works at SensorUp as an Emissions Data Scientist. Dr. Gao has actively explored innovative solutions for methane emissions monitoring. His recent co-authorship with the Centre for Smart Emissions Sensing Technologies (SENST) at the University of Calgary in the research article published in Scientific Reports is a testament to his commitment to advancing monitoring technologies for better methane emissions measurement and management. Dr. Mozhou received his Ph.D. in 2023 under the supervision of Prof. Chris H. Hugenholtz at the University of Calgary.

This research was undertaken thanks in part to funding from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

For an in-depth scientific perspective, read the research paper Global Observational Coverage of Methane Emissions in the Oil and Gas Sector with TROPOMI published on

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