Lead scientist named for MethaneSAT team

Published: 19 August 2020

NIWA’s carbon cycling expert, Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher will lead a team of key New Zealand scientists as part of MethaneSAT, an international space mission helping tackle climate change, announced Dr Peter Crabtree, MBIE’s General Manager Science, Innovation & International.

Portrait of Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher

Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher is lead scientist as part of MethaneSAT

“Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher brings a wealth of experience to MethaneSAT, and will work alongside world-leading scientists at Harvard University and other institutions to make significant leaps in the measurement of methane from space, advancing our scientific understanding of methane emissions and their contribution to climate change” said Dr Crabtree.

Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher will assemble and lead a team of leading New Zealand and international atmospheric scientists who can develop a research programme that is focused on agricultural methane emissions.

“MethaneSAT’s core mission is to gather data to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas around the world by 45%, and the US-based team is focused on using the satellite to tackle this problem,” said Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher.

“There is also, an incredible opportunity to use these satellite data to tackle agricultural emissions from animals and rice paddies, both here in Aotearoa and around the world.”

The New Zealand-led science project will be responsible for developing a global strategy for how MethaneSAT can be used around the world to help reduce methane emissions from agriculture.

“Closer to home, this project will give Aotearoa a clearer picture of our agricultural emissions, help us track the effectiveness of our emissions reduction strategies, and establish us as world leaders in methane research,” added Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher.

Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher has led NIWA’s work on CarbonWatch NZ for the past two years, working to combine measurements of greenhouse gases in the air above New Zealand with models that tell where those gases have come from, producing a bird's eye view of our country’s carbon balance.

Today’s announcement is part of realising New Zealand’s $26 million commitment to the MethaneSAT project being developed with the Environmental Defense Fund. Work is underway on establishing a mission control centre here prior to a satellite launch in 2022.


MethaneSAT was announced by Minister of Research, Science and Innovation Megan Woods in November 2019. This project will see MBIE partner with the Environmental Defense Fund in the US to launch and operate a state-of-the-art satellite focused on measuring methane emissions.

Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher Bio

Dr Sara Mikaloff-Fletcher studies CO2 and CH4 emitted from human activities, how these gases move through the atmosphere, terrestrial biosphere, and oceans, and their impact on climate and biogeochemistry. Her research uses regional and global models and observations collected across a variety of platforms including surface sites, aircraft, ships and remote sensing.

Additionally, Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher is an internationally recognised expert in carbon cycling. Two years ago, she and her team made a surprising discovery when they identified a major carbon uptake in New Zealand, most likely occurring in native forests in the South Island. The discovery led them to suspect that the way New Zealand’s carbon uptake may be substantially underestimated and that our forests and other land areas may be absorbing up to 60 per cent more carbon dioxide than previously thought.

New Zealand’s forest carbon uptake played a key role in meeting commitments under the Kyoto Climate treaty and is likely to continue to play a key role in meeting our Zero Carbon goals. This research has significant ramifications for the future management of national emissions.

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Last updated: 19 August 2020