Spaceborne assessment of the Soviet Union's role in the 1990s methane slowdown

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. This is version 2 of this Preprint.

Add a Comment

You must log in to post a comment.


There are no comments or no comments have been made public for this article.


Download Preprint


Tai-Long He, Ryan J. Boyd, Daniel J. Varon , Alexander J. Turner


Methane is the second most important anthropogenic greenhouse gas, amounting to 60% of the radiative forcing from CO2 since pre-industrial times based on emitted compound. Global atmospheric methane concentrations rose by 10-15 ppb/yr in the 1980s before abruptly slowing to 2-8 ppb/yr in the early 1990s. This period in the 1990s is known as the ``methane slowdown'' and has been attributed to the collapse of the former Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, which may have decreased the methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Here we develop a methane plume detection system based on probabilistic deep learning and human-labelled training data. We use this method to detect methane plumes from Landsat 5 satellite observations over Turkmenistan from 1986 to 2011. We find an increase in both the frequency of methane plume detections and the magnitude of methane emissions following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. We estimate a national leak rate from oil and gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan of more than 10% at times, which suggests the socioeconomic turmoil led to a lack of oversight and widespread infrastructure failure in the oil and gas sector. Our results contradict the theory that the 1990s methane slowdown was driven by the collapse of the USSR, which we find led to an increase in methane emissions.



Atmospheric Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, Oil, Gas, and Energy, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


methane, Deep learning, remote sensing, Soviet Union


Published: 2023-10-04 19:58

Last Updated: 2023-10-05 02:58

Older Versions

CC BY Attribution 4.0 International