pollution

COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place Restrictions Leads to Less Air Pollution

The unexpected and almost sudden drop in pollution from cars and factories in the US has become evident in new satellite imagery from NOAA.

NOAA
NO2 concentrations as seen from the Sentinel-5P satellite in March 2019.
NOAA
NO2 concentrations as seen from the Sentinel-5P satellite in March 2020.

The above photos show the difference in nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere over the United States in March of 2019 and 2020. Nitrogen Dioxide is one of the main pollutants in the air and is produced by gas burning engines.

Per the Ozone Transport Commission, car traffic in the US is down 50% or more since mid-February. This explains the noticeable reduction in nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere. Fewer cars on the road have also affected airborne particulate pollution.

NOAA
Airborne particulate pollution as seen from the Suomi-NPP satellite in March 2019.
NOAA
Airborne particulate pollution as seen from the Suomi-NPP satellite in March 2020.

Similar to nitrogen dioxide observations, airborne particulate pollution has decreased in the same time period. Airborne particulates include soot and smoke, both byproducts of gas engine vehicles.

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NOAA explains that there can be yearly changes in this data from weather patterns, however, the significant differences are likely the result of COVID-19 and weather patterns.

The US is not alone in these observations. Several European agencies have noted reduced pollution as a suspected result of COVID-19.

NOAA and other bodies continue to monitor pollution levels as well as research the effect of COVID-19 on the environment. For more information on NOAA’s research, click here.

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