Climate Action

Coronavirus: Scientists reveal reduction in global air pollution and nitrogen dioxide levels

Since the Coronavirus outbreak, scientists have reported a decrease in air pollution and nitrogen dioxide levels around the world.

  • 19 March 2020
  • Rachel Cooper

Since the Coronavirus outbreak, scientists have reported a decrease in air pollution and nitrogen dioxide levels around the world.

The World Health Organisation recently declared coronavirus a pandemic. At the same time, scientists from around the world have revealed a decline in air pollution and nitrogen dioxide levels.

At the beginning of March, NASA revealed that pollution levels in China, where the outbreak started, had dramatically reduced. NASA's pollution monitoring satellites detected significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide (NO2). In addition to this, analysis by Carbon Brief revealed the coronavirus has temporarily reduced China’s CO2 emissions by a quarter.

Italy, where cases have dramatically increased and is now the country with the largest number of cases outside of China, has also experienced a decline in air pollution.

New data from the European Space Agency found a reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions. The ESA say this reduction is particularly visible in northern Italy, which coincides with its nationwide lockdown.

 

 

Claus Zehner, ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager, said: “The decline in nitrogen dioxide emissions over the Po Valley in northern Italy is particularly evident.”

“Although there could be slight variations in the data due to cloud cover and changing weather, we are very confident that the reduction in emissions that we can see, coincides with the lockdown in Italy causing less traffic and industrial activities.”

Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, said: “Copernicus Sentinel-5P Tropomi is the most accurate instrument today that measures air pollution from space. These measurements, globally available thanks to the free and open data policy, provide crucial information for citizens and decision makers."

In the United States, pollution levels have also declined. Researchers told the BBC that New York has seen a 50% reduction in carbon monoxide emissions, compared to last year. Traffic levels are estimated to be down by 35 percent and they report a ‘solid drop’ in methane levels.

As some of the world comes to a standstill, there is no doubt that we will see a further decline in global emissions. As uncertainity grows around the longevity of the virus, no one knows just how much of an impact on pollution levels it could have.