Understanding Nord Stream methane leaks: environmental impacts, identified action plans


The submerged Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, located near Sweden and Denmark, revealed methane leaks last week. To better understand the phenomenon, a group of combined Earth observation satellites equipped with radar and optical imaging instruments was used.

One of the most dangerous climate change gases on Earth is methane.

Following four ruptures in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 undersea pipelines carrying natural gas under the Baltic Sea, record amounts of it are believed to be escaping into the atmosphere.

Nord Stream leaks are a disaster for climate change and the world must act quickly to reduce methane emissions, say scientists.


According to the Australian Environmental Protection Authority of New South Wales, methane is an odorless and flammable gas composed of carbon and hydrogen. It is one of many greenhouse gases that warm the Earth’s atmosphere, causing climate change.

According to the Global Methane Assessment report by UNEP and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, human (or anthropogenic) activity in three sectors is responsible for almost half of the world’s methane emissions. These include the extraction of fossil fuels, such as oil, gas and coal, as well as the agricultural sector and the waste industry, which includes landfills and sewage. Methane is also the known primary element of natural gas.

Methane under pressure

Although it partially dissolves in water and is then released as carbon dioxide, methane is not toxic, but it is the second most prevalent anthropogenic greenhouse gas causing global warming. climate change in our atmosphere. The size of the gas bubbles increased as the pressure decreased as the pressurized gas escaped from the broken pipe and moved rapidly towards the surface of the sea.

The large gas bubbles above the pipeline rupture had rippled across the surface of the sea when they reached the surface. From space, there are several ways to detect the presence of gas floating on the surface of the ocean. A few days later, as the gas from the pipelines filled, it was observed that the estimated radius of the methane disturbance at the water surface had decreased significantly.

Methane through the clouds

Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) instruments, which are incredibly sensitive to sea surface motion on such a scale, are more likely to detect backscatter due to the “roughness” of the sea surface caused by disruptions like these. The first New Space company to participate in the fleet of Copernicus contributing missions, ICEYE, has instruments on board the Copernicus Sentinel-1 and the Constellation.

Craig Donlon, ocean and ice scientist at ESA, said active microwave radar systems have the advantage over optical systems where they can observe signatures of methane bubbling through clouds. over a large area and with high spatial resolution, overcoming one of their main disadvantages.

One of the ruptures took place southeast of Bornholm, the Danish island of Bornholm. But on the evening of September 28, an ICEYE satellite passing over the region captured an image that showed a disturbance in the sea surface above the rupture.

Methane monitoring

GHGSat tasked its constellation of high-resolution (about 25m) satellites with measuring the leak from the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. While optical satellites can tell us how far the methane bubbles are from the water, they don’t tell us much about the amount of gas that was emitted into the atmosphere. Since water absorbs the majority of sunlight in the shortwave infrared wavelengths needed for methane remote sensing, monitoring methane over water is extremely difficult.

The first methane concentration study carried out by GHGSat Europe was 79,000 kg per hour, making it the largest single point methane leak ever discovered by GHGSat. This rate is incredibly high, especially since four days have passed since the initial breach and there are only four places where the Nord Stream pipeline can rupture. The methane concentration readings produced by this pipeline leak were provided by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite.

Environmental impact

The two Nord Stream stems, which were shut down at the time, contained enough gas to release 300,000 tonnes of methane, more than double the amount leaked from Aliso Canyon in California for several months from 2015 to 2016. had released.

Despite its size, Nord Stream’s discharge pales in comparison to the 80 million tonnes of emissions produced annually by the oil and gas sector. The most recent version is comparable to the average one-day value of global methane emissions.

The Sentinel-5P satellite can monitor methane emissions from strong point sources around the world in areas of high concentrations. A near-infrared spectrometer will be on board the next atmospheric Copernicus anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2M) monitoring mission to measure atmospheric carbon dioxide as well as methane with high spatial resolution.

Yasjka Meijer, scientist for Copernicus Atmospheric Missions at ESA, said the CO2M mission will provide global coverage and include a special mode over water to increase observed radiation by aiming for the solar reflection point, but it will also be constrained by the clouds.

Methane as a pollutant

According to UNEP, methane is such a “potent” greenhouse gas that it has a global warming potential 80 times that of carbon dioxide over 20 years.

Methane has contributed to global warming for about 30% of human history. The amount of methane in the atmosphere is also rising at its fastest rate since records were kept, which date back to the 1980s.

Natural gas is often referred to as a “bridge fuel” to renewables by the energy industry because it emits half the carbon per kilowatt than coal when burned.

However, scientists fear that the scale of methane gas leaks from the oil and gas industry could mean that natural gas is more harmful to the climate than coal.

123 oil and gas sites, including those in Hungary, Germany and Poland, released methane into the atmosphere, according to a recent study by climate change organization Clean Air Task Force.

World Economic Forum Against Air Pollution

National ambient air quality standards have been established in more than 50% of countries, but much remains to be done to protect people and the environment. The Clean Air Fund launched the first global private sector effort to tackle air pollution at COP26. The founding members of the Alliance for Clean Air are dedicated to tracking and reducing their air pollution emissions to improve the health of communities everywhere.

Clean Air Alliance Members

Within a year, members of the Alliance for Clean Air hope to establish air pollution footprints for particulates, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. They also seek to identify where these emissions come from to monitor human exposure, and they set ambitious targets with a well-defined action plan to reduce air pollution emissions.

Members also serve as clean air advocates by educating colleagues, customers and communities about the dangers of air pollution. Additionally, they will support them as they take action to reduce pollution and help them reduce their exposure.

Participants will creatively use their resources to accelerate clean air solutions.

Also read: Nord Stream gas leaks raise climate concerns, but damage is hard to measure; Germany suspects sabotage

Climate and Clean Air Coalition, Stockholm Environment Institute and IKEA

The Stockholm Environment Institute, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and IKEA present a practical framework for businesses on how they can measure air pollution along value chains when of COP26. The handbook will help companies understand their effect on air quality and take the necessary steps to reduce their emissions.

An immediate reduction in methane levels is imperative, scientists say, to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

According to UNEP, methane begins to break down after about 10 years, while carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. Therefore, reducing methane emissions will have a much faster effect on stopping global warming and climate change than reducing CO2 emissions.

What is the world doing about methane?

The Global Methane Pledge, a commitment to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030, has been signed by more than 120 countries.

The US and EU announced the commitment at the COP26 UN Climate Change Summit in Glasgow in 2021.

The Global Methane Pledge Energy Pathway, which hopes to reduce methane emissions generated by the oil and gas sector, is one of its first initiatives. Accelerating methane mitigation innovations and ending routine flaring are examples of actions. National Public Radio, an American news agency, explains that this is when unsold gas is flared.

According to UNEP, adopting a plant-based diet and finding alternative sources of protein can help reduce methane emissions from agriculture.

The UK imposed a landfill tax in 1996 and the European Commission’s Landfill Directive, which introduced restrictions on landfills in 1999, were two of the EU’s efforts to reduce emissions of waste methane. A joint EU-White House press release on the Global Methane Pledge says methane emissions from landfills in Europe have nearly halved since 1996, reports The European Sting.

Related Article: Why the Nord Stream Methane Leak May Threaten the Environment

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