New Satellite Tech Can Measure Cow Burps From Space

New Satellite Tech Can Measure Cow Burps From Space

Researchers have used high-resolution satellites to measure the effects of methane emissions from cows -- essentially the ruminant animal’s burps. Their findings showed that on Feb. 2, the Bear 5 cow feedlot near Bakersfield, CA emitted between 977 to 1,472.69 pounds of methane per hour. Over the course of a year, such a figure would add as much as 5,000 tons of methane to the earth’s atmosphere. If captured, that amount of methane could power over 15,000 homes.

Reuters: Satellites measure cow burps from space, May 4, 2022.

VERIFY: Yes, cattle are the top source of methane emissions in the US, December 14, 2021.

Bloomberg: Bloomberg Green - The Dangers of Methane Gas, October 11, 2021.

Why This Matters

Agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the US. The meat industry is responsible for about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gasses, 9.6% of US greenhouse gas emissions, and 36% of US methane emissions. That said, agricultural methane emissions are hard to measure, and measurements are necessary to properly track and enforce reductions in the sector. This recent study could make it easier for bodies like the EPA to set regulations on methane emissions, which is crucial in averting the worst of climate change, as a recent study found that if the world were to phase out meat and dairy over the next 15 years, it would cancel out emissions from all other sectors for 30 to 50 years.

Now This: How Animal Agriculture Contributes to Climate Change, October 22, 2021.

NASA: NASA Models Methane Sources, Movement Around Globe, March 23, 2020.

Bloomberg: Record Methane Levels Made 2021 5th Hottest Year Since 2000, January 10, 2022.

Potential Solutions

The animal agriculture industry is more unsustainable than ever, yet meat consumption continues to rise. This puts pressure on the industry to figure out how to lower emissions in a world hungry for meat. A controversial option is to genetically engineer and breed cows that emit less methane. This has already been done successfully with sheep, leading scientists to wonder if it could work in the meat and dairy industry.

Still, shifting from a meat-heavy diet to a plant-based is the most straightforward solution. New research has found that rewilding farmland -- previously used for grazing cattle -- can allow wealthy countries to cut their agricultural emissions by 61% while also sequestering CO2.

CBS: UK researchers study genetic link to methane emissions in cattle, October 20, 2021.

Sentient Media: Food System Emissions - How Can We Reduce Our Carbon Footprint?, June 18, 2021.