Quantifying greenhouse gas emissions from coal fires using airborne and ground-based methods

Mark A. Engle, Lawrence F. Radke, Edward L. Heffern, Jennifer M.K. O'Keefe, Charles D. Smeltzer, James C. Hower, Judith M. Hower, Anupma Prakash, Allan Kolker, Robert J. Eatwell, Arnout ter Schure, Gerald Queen, Kerry L. Aggen, Glenn B. Stracher, Kevin R. Henke, Ricardo A. Olea, Yomayra Román-Colón

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Coal fires occur in all coal-bearing regions of the world and number, conservatively, in the thousands. These fires emit a variety of compounds including greenhouse gases. However, the magnitude of the contribution of combustion gases from coal fires to the environment is highly uncertain, because adequate data and methods for assessing emissions are lacking. This study demonstrates the ability to estimate CO2 and CH4 emissions for the Welch Ranch coal fire, Powder River Basin, Wyoming, USA, using two independent methods: (a) heat flux calculated from aerial thermal infrared imaging (3.7-4.4td-1 of CO2 equivalent emissions) and (b) direct, ground-based measurements (7.3-9.5td-1 of CO2 equivalent emissions). Both approaches offer the potential for conducting inventories of coal fires to assess their gas emissions and to evaluate and prioritize fires for mitigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147-151
Number of pages5
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by grants from the Electric Power Research Institute (to L.R. and A.t.S.) and the U.S. Geological Survey Geology Venture Capital Fund (to A.K. and M.A.E.). Additional support was provided by the U.S. Geological Survey Energy Resources Program. Chris Swezey, Robert Burruss, and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the quality of this paper. We thank the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for access to the Welch Ranch property and for field support. We also thank Alex Dunn, our pilot.


  • Coal fires
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Powder River Basin
  • Thermal infrared imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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