How this data method is different

EDF and Google Earth Outreach gain new insight using analysis and mobile sensors

Two photos comparing methane measurement procedures
Existing methods to measure methane concentration include enclosures (pictured), and technicians walking with methane “sniffers.”

Utility companies and scientists routinely monitor pipe systems for methane leaks. The measurement techniques are labor-intensive and time-consuming, but accurately determine concentration, the key safety factor.

But leaks can also have a big impact on the climate, and current methods don’t assess that impact because they don’t determine the rate of the leak. So EDF, Google Earth Outreach and researchers at Colorado State University developed a new way to locate and estimate the climate impact of methane leaks. This new method and its results have been published in a peer-reviewed paper for the Environmental Science & Technology journal.

The result is a method that can scale up dramatically across entire cities. It supplements existing high-precision methods by making the climate effects of local leaks visual and accessible.

What sets this new method apart?

  • How we collect data: In this pilot project, we are using three specially-equipped Google Street View cars, taking readings across large areas in just a few weeks.
  • What we measure: Methane concentration, wind direction and speed, and GPS location. Data was recorded two times a second, and streets were driven multiple times to verify readings.
  • What we calculate: Leak rate, so we can estimate the climate impact of a leak as well as its location.
  • How we calculate it: Our research team developed a new algorithm that uses intensive calculations and validated it against leaks that utilities already monitor. The analysis will be published in a peer-reviewed scientific paper later this year.
  • Where we collect data: In large cities, it is impractical to map every street. To get a representative sample we select areas to drive with a variety of landscapes, type of pipe materials, and pipe ages.

Project experts

Steve Hamburg Chief Scientist Contact

Joe von Fischer Associate Professor, Colorado State University

Video: How it works

See how we use Google Street View cars and methane sensors to detect leaks.

Media contact

  • Jon Coifman
    (212) 616-1325 (office)
    (917) 575-1885 (cell)

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