An aircraft will study methane emissions due to natural gas extraction in the North sea

An image to illustrate natural gas extraction, which can cause methane emissions
© iStock/nielubieklonu

Today, scientists have embarked on a three week flying mission, where an aircraft will study methane emissions due to natural gas extraction in the North sea.

Scientists on board a British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter aircraft will analyse the methane emissions from the North Sea gas rigs using specialised scientific equipment. It will involve twenty two hours of flying across the southern North Sea while gathering the data on the chemistry and structure of the atmosphere.

How natural gas extraction works

Methane emissions from gas fields

Methane is a greenhouse gas. Gas fields are a major source of methane emissions, contributing to climate change.

Researchers need reliable methods to be able to locate and quantify the emissions to inform policy and industry regulations.

Dr Anna Jones, atmospheric scientist from British Antarctic Survey, said: “Creating practical methods for monitoring this key greenhouse gas in the North Sea is a step towards a better understanding of global methane emissions. Since methane is a powerful greenhouse gas this is not only important for atmospheric science, it’s relevant to everyone.”

The British Antarctic Survey adds: “Establishing procedures to monitor emissions from activities such as natural gas extraction will help scientists produce a more accurate record of global methane emissions from industrial activities. By understanding how much of this powerful greenhouse gas is being emitted into the atmosphere at present, researchers can provide better estimates of future emission levels. This will inform global climate models and increase the reliability of future climate change predictions.”

The aircraft

Project co-ordinator Dr Dave Lowry from Royal Holloway University says: “Using the British Antarctic Survey Twin Otter for this project is a big plus because it can fly at half of the speed of larger research aircraft. This is important when we are trying to examine a plume of emissions from a gas installation and have only a short time to catch the sample.”

The work is part of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) Oil and Gas Methane Science Studies.

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