Google's Street View cars provide and measure plenty of handy information, and now they're being used to spot, map out, and measure methane leaks around the United States. They accomplish this via a special infrared sensor that can see the gas plumes, which are usually invisible to the naked human eye. Their smell can get lost in the milieu of human activities, such as in a big city full of smells from food, construction, and cars, or in a more rural area where there may be loamy farmland nearby. This means that, aside from specialized units made for such a purpose, Google's Street View cars stand as the best qualified to spot and measure methane leaks. The entire thing is being done in partnership with Colorado State University. To date, Google's fleet has mapped out the methane problems in 11 major cities.
Methane is one of the biggest contributors to climate change, even outdoing carbon in its effectiveness in ripping apart the ozone layer. Methane leaks are a huge problem throughout the United States. This is especially true in major cities, where underground leaks can take years for anybody to notice. The leaks are focused fairly strongly in such areas, as well; current measurements peg about 8% of leaks out there being responsible for 30% of the nation's methane emissions. Google's fleet of specially equipped Street View cars has the goal of getting all of the pertinent information needed to fix these leaks together, eliminating a good portion of the time-consuming and expensive process facing cities.
Tackling the issue of greenhouse gas emissions in man-made applications is a long-time goal that will take a lot of people working together for a long time, but helping to eliminate somewhere close to 1/3 of the total methane emissions in one of the biggest countries in the world is certainly a fairly big step. While Google and CSU's efforts will not actually repair any damage or stop any leaks directly, they will make it far easier, faster, and cheaper for other entities, such as city crews and contractors, to track down, assess, and fix damaged lines and major leaks.