Indian Scientists Revolutionize Greenhouse Gas Monitoring with Satellite Tech

Collaboration between IISER Bhopal, CIMMYT, and University of Michigan Yields Groundbreaking Results

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Bhopal (IISER) has teamed up with researchers from CIMMYT and the University of Michigan to develop a revolutionary satellite-based technology capable of monitoring greenhouse gas emissions stemming from the burning of crop residues across India. The study demonstrates the power of spectral data collected by space-based instruments to accurately estimate emissions on a massive scale.

In the aftermath of India’s Green Revolution, which significantly boosted food grain production, the management of crop residues has become a major sustainability concern. Crop residue burning (CRB) is the prevailing method for dealing with these residues, but it has raised serious environmental issues. Indian farmers annually burn approximately 87 million tonnes of crop residues, surpassing the entire agricultural waste production of neighboring countries.

Dr. Dhanyalekshmi K. Pillai, Assistant Professor and Head of the Max Planck Partner Group at IISER Bhopal, emphasized the severe repercussions of crop residue burning on climate, public health, and food security, stating that current agricultural practices are unsustainable and technology interventions are crucial.

The research findings reveal a staggering 75% increase in greenhouse gas emissions over the past decade, with Punjab and Madhya Pradesh being the top emitters. Rice, wheat, and maize crop burning accounted for 97% of India’s agricultural burning emissions, with rice contributing 55%.

Mr. Monish Deshpande, a Research Scholar at IISER Bhopal, emphasized the need for effective and sustainable policies to combat crop residue burning, especially in light of a surge in burning in 2016 despite initial policy measures.

To address the challenges of CRB, precise knowledge of emissions across the country is essential. This collaborative study leverages remote sensing technology to provide accurate insights into the scale of CRB emissions nationwide. Dr. Vijesh V. Krishna, a senior economist at CIMMYT, highlighted conservation agriculture as an effective strategy to reduce residue burning without compromising yields.

Unlike previous assessments, this study relied on satellite and other data to identify which crops are burned, when they are grown, and how technology is utilized in various districts, focusing on actual district-level agricultural burned areas and associated emissions from 2011 to 2020.

The research, led by Mr. Monish Deshpande, was part of the IISERB-CIMMYT collaborative project under the guidance of Dr. Dhanyalekshmi K. Pillai. It was published in the respected peer-reviewed journal Science of the Total Environment and co-authored by researchers from IISER-Bhopal, CIMMYT-Hyderabad, and the University of Michigan. The paper can be accessed at link.