Scientists Take Aim at Four Corners Methane Mystery
Researchers from several institutions are in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest with a suite of airborne and ground-based instruments, aiming to uncover reasons for a mysterious methane “hot spot” detected from space.
“With all the ground-based and airborne resources that the different groups are bringing to the region, we have the unique chance to unequivocally solve the Four Corners mystery,” said Christian Frankenberg, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, who is heading NASA’s part of the effort. Other investigators are from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Last fall, researchers including Frankenberg reported that a small region around the Four Corners intersection of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah had the highest concentration of methane over background levels of any part of the United States. An instrument on a European Space Agency satellite measuring greenhouse gases showed a persistent atmospheric hot spot in the area between 2003 and 2009. The amount of methane observed by the satellite was much higher than previously estimated.
The satellite observations were not detailed enough to reveal the actual sources of the methane in the Four Corners. Likely candidates include venting from oil and gas activities, which are primarily coalbed methane exploration and extraction in this region; active coal mines; and natural gas seeps.