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Satellite detection of fossil fuels?

  1. Mar 3, 2012 #1
    I've been searching for information on this, but it comes with a caveat -- I'm wondering if there is a known means by which deposits of petroleum, coal or other "fossil fuel" deposits could be detected remotely with an orbital satellite, but not rely on such fossil fuel material giving any visible indication on the surface, such that it could be used to, say, search for deposits like coal or oil on Mars by building and deploying such a satellite to orbit Mars as a means of searching for evidence of past life. With Mars' lack of plate tectonics, I imagine surface cracks enabling oil seeping onto the surface is less likely than on Earth and even even when such cracks do occur and oil seeps out, the planetwide dust storms would likely cover, obscure and bury such giveaways.

    To repeat the essential question: do we have technology that can detect subterranean deposits of fossil fuels, such as petroleum, with remote technology that is not limited to looking for signs of surface seepage?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 4, 2012 #2

    D H

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    Not really. The closest would be satellites such as GRACE and GOCE that are used to build gravity models. However, while gravity models are used in oil exploration, these satellite-only gravity models aren't of high enough resolution to detect oil deposits. Moreover, both the GRACE and GOCE projects depend on GPS. There is no Martian GPS.

    There probably isn't oil or coal on Mars. Life on Mars (still an if) probably barely eked by and never went into overdrive like it did a few times in Earth's history. Our oil and coal were formed during a few key points in time when life on Earth was particularly prolific. The Carboniferous (note the name) climate was significantly warmer and had significantly higher levels of oxygen and CO2 than present.

    There was a planned joint European/NASA satellite to look for the sources of methane in Mars atmosphere, but Obama's Feb 13 budget proposal nixed that idea (and lots of others). The next few years are going to be very, very ugly for NASA.
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