Google Earth Outreach and Environmental Defense Fund have partnered to map natural gas leaks under streets of Boston, Indianapolis and New York City’s Staten Island.
Leaks like these rarely pose an immediate safety threat, but the leaking natural gas — which is mostly methane — has a powerful effect on the global climate, carrying 120 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.
The interactive maps for each city constitute the first phase of a pilot project developed using specially equipped Google Street View mapping cars, under a partnership between EDF and Google Earth Outreach to explore new sensing and analytical technologies to measure environmental indicators, and to make that information more accessible to everybody.
EDF also worked closely with several leading utilities to validate the findings.
The maps were created using three Google Street View cars specially equipped with methane sensing technology. EDF and researchers at Colorado State University spent two years experimenting with the system and developing analytical tools to not only locate, but also accurately assess the amount of gas escaping from even small leaks detected amid 15 million individual readings collected over thousands of miles of roadway.
EDF and Google Earth Outreach will be mapping methane leaks in more cities as part of the current project, and they will begin working to map other air pollutants this summer. The EDF algorithms will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific paper later this year, and made available on an open-source basis.
In 2012, the California Air Resources Board launched a mapping tool using Google Earth that allows users to locate major sources of greenhouse gases and examine the emissions of each facility.