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Satellite observation of pollutant emissions from gas flaring activities near...

Li, C., N. C. Hsu, A. M. Sayer, N. Krotkov, J. S. Fu, L. N. Lamsal, J. Lee, and S. Tsay (2016), Satellite observation of pollutant emissions from gas flaring activities near the Arctic, Atmos. Environ., 133, 1-11, doi:10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.03.019.

Gas flaring is a common practice in the oil industry that can have significant environmental impacts, but has until recently been largely overlooked in terms of relevance to climate change. We utilize data from various satellite sensors to examine pollutant emissions from oil exploitation activities in four areas near the Arctic. Despite the remoteness of these sparsely populated areas, tropospheric NO2 retrieved from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) is substantial at ~1 × 1015 molecules cm-2, suggesting sizeable emissions from these industrial activities. Statistically significant (at the 95% confidence level, corresponding uncertainties in parentheses) increasing trends of 0.017 (±0.01) × 1015 and 0.015 (±0.006) × 1015 molecules cm-2 year-1 over 2004e2015 were found for Bakken (USA) and Athabasca (Canada), two areas having recently experienced fast expansion in the oil industry. This rapid change has implications for emission inventories, which are updated less frequently. No significant trend was found for the North Sea (Europe), where oil production has been declining since the 1990s. For northern Russia, the trend was just under the 95% significance threshold at 0.0057 (±0.006) × 1015 molecules cm-2 year-1. This raises an interesting inconsistency as prior studies have suggested that, in contrast to the continued, albeit slow, expansion of Russian oil/gas production, gas flaring in Russia has decreased in recent years. However, only a fraction of oil fields in Russia were covered in our analysis. Satellite aerosol optical depth (AOD) data revealed similar tendencies, albeit at a weaker level of statistical significance, due to the longer lifetime of aerosols and contributions from other sources. This study demonstrates that synergetic use of data from multiple satellite sensors can provide valuable information on pollutant emission sources that is otherwise difficult to acquire.

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Atmospheric Composition Modeling and Analysis Program (ACMAP)