Scientists pinpointed methane hotspots in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest.

Methane observations from a European satellite revealed a high concentration of methane in this area, and the researchers hoped to get to the bottom of what was causing it, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences reported.

"If we can verify the methane emissions found by the satellite, and identify the various sources, then decision-makers will have critical information for any actions they are considering," says Gabrielle Pétron, a scientist from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, working in NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) and one of the mission's investigators.

Likely candidates for the source of the methane hot spot include "venting from oil and gas activities, including liquid unloading for coalbed methane extraction; active coal mines; and natural seeps." Researchers brought instruments to this region to investigate these sources, and now NASA is joining in.

"This is a grassroots effort which has brought in funding from multiple agencies to multiple investigators to better understand methane emissions from the Four Corners using an array of methods," said Eric Kort, one of the mission's investigators from U-M.

Over the next month the researchers will monitor the Four Corners area with a number of platforms and instruments. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will also fly two complementary remote sensing instruments on two Twin Otter research aircraft. Using these combined forces, the researchers hope to pinpoint the contributing factors causing the methane cloud.

"This joint campaign is a win-win for all participants," said Christian Frankenberg, a JPL scientist who is heading NASA's part of the effort. "It is a unique opportunity to characterize the region's methane budget using both remote sensing and local measurements in a coordinated effort."