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Using drones to map GHG emissions

Geoscience BC uses NASA technology to detect and analyze aerial greenhouse gas emissions using drones.

Geoscience BC is launching a groundbreaking project called GHGMap, which uses low-flying drones to map greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The innovative approach could improve the speed, accuracy, safety and cost of measuring GHG emissions.

Geoscience BC's GHG mapping drone taking flight at a launch event in late October. Photo courtesy Geoscience BC.

The technology utilizes a mini-optical instrument called a laser spectrometer that was developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The instrument weights just 400 grams and is capable of measuring GHGs at extremely sensitive parts-per-billion levels. The instrument is mounted onto a small drone which flies over an area, quickly detecting and analyzing the amounts of GHGs such as methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Carlos Salas, Geoscience BC vice-president of energy states: "Independent scientific data is essential in making informed decisions relating to natural resource development. We are demonstrating how the technology works and how it will be used to map greenhouse gas emissions in northeast British Columbia and beyond to help the resource sector, First Nations, governments and communities to make more informed resource management decisions.”

Geoff Morrison, CAPP’s manager for British Columbia, notes that oil and natural gas producers are supportive of this kind of innovation, which can help with industry’s ongoing efforts to improve environmental performance related to monitoring and reducing GHG emissions. “Geoscience BC has done invaluable scientific research in the past related to groundwater, safe fluid disposal and seismicity. We look forward to their efforts on behalf of GHG emissions monitoring.”

"It will be used to map greenhouse gas emissions in northeast British Columbia and beyond to help the resource sector, First Nations, governments and communities to make more informed resource management decisions."

Carlos Salas, Geoscience BC vice-president of energy

As part of a demonstration project for the technology, from 2017 through to 2020, drones will be used to map GHG emissions from natural gas production sites in northeastern British Columbia. Currently, GHG emissions are estimated based on periodic sampling and computer modelling. Geoscience B.C. says that their approach will provide accurate, real-time mapping of GHGs at both local and regional scales.

It’s expected that the technology will be beneficial for mapping a wide range of GHG sources, including those from wetlands, landfills, sewage treatment plants, agriculture feedlots, pipelines and dams.

The project is supported by the Government of Canada. Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada, says these kind of projects represent “made-in-Canada solutions that bolster industry, create highly skilled jobs and protect our environment.”

Geoscience BC is an independent, non-profit organization that generates earth science information in collaboration with First Nations, local communities, governments, academia and the resource sector.