Cow Burps Spotted From Space

Satellites have captured the polluting power of cow burps from space for the first time ever, in a breakthrough that could help farmers slash methane emissions.


Four cows strolling in a field at sunrise

Beef and dairy have a hefty climate footprint in large part because cows burp out methane, a greenhouse gas many times more planet-warming than carbon dioxide. Cows produce methane as they digest grass in their stomachs, in a process a bit like fermentation.


Engineers at Canadian firm GHG Sat, which specialises in monitoring emissions from space, have caught these burps on camera for the first time using high-definition satellites.


They detected methane emissions coming from an agricultural area in California’s Joaquin Valley, and further analysis confirmed the source of the pollution as a cattle feedlot. GHG Sat said five emissions were recorded, with cows burping out methane at a rate of up to 668 grams per hour. If this were sustained for a year, it would amount to enough gas to power 15,402 homes.


Satellite image showing methane burps in green and blue dots

GHG Sat believes it marks the first time greenhouse gas emissions from cattle have been measured from space, thanks to advances in technologies for reading satellite images.


Animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, with cattle farming alone thought to be responsible for around 3.7 percent of all global emissions.


One solution to reducing the amount of methane burped by cows is to give them special feed supplements, like Mootal, which cuts their methane level by around 40 percent. Another company, called Zelp, has gone so far as to create a special mask that cows wear above their nostrils and acts a bit like a catalytic converter on a car.