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Google Earth detecting natural gas leaks in US

17th July 2014

A convergence of tech trends – inexpensive sensors, cloud computing and data analysis, and social media – is transforming environmental protection by giving people and organisations like Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) the ability to collect and analyse huge amounts of information, then publish results for all to see

Google Earth being used to detect natural gas leaks
Leaking gas, which is mostly methane, has a powerful effect on the global climate, packing up to 120 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide

Thanks to a partnership with Google Earth Outreach, EDF has mapped thousands of natural gas leaks beneath three American cities – Boston, Indianapolis, and New York City’s borough of Staten Island. Using three of the company’s famous Street View cars equipped with special sensors, it gathered millions of individual readings over thousands of miles of neighborhood streets.

Leaking gas, which is mostly methane, has a powerful effect on the global climate, packing up to 120 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.

The project – one of 16 studies coordinated by EDF to measure methane emissions across the entire natural gas system – underscores the challenge of controlling leaks from the local distribution sector, and the progress that can be made when cities work to tackle it aggressively.

EDF believes that its research will make it faster, easier and cheaper to gather and analyse data on methane leaks and other kinds of pollution. But breakthroughs like this don’t happen overnight.

Its research team spent two years working with scientists at Colorado State University to develop and test these new analytical tools. And it worked closely with a number of leading utilities to cross-check and validate their findings against real-world conditions.

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