Pandemic Silver Lining | weatherology°
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By: Meteorologist Michael Karow
Updated: Apr 7th 2020

Pandemic Silver Lining

As the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to wreak havoc on many aspects of daily life across the globe, from the unfortunate climbing toll to human lives, to job loss, to the declining financial markets, there is at least some “silver lining” to this new reality for the environment. With the decrease in human travel and “stay at home” orders in many parts of the world, a noticeable improvement in air quality has been the result.

This improvement in air quality is significant enough that it is not only being observed at ground-based measuring stations, but even from weather satellites orbiting the Earth. The first country hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, China was the first to show the marked decline in pollution, especially in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels, a chemical released from the burning of fossil fuels.  Data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite showed a decrease of up to 30% for NO2 and particulate matter between January and February, 2020.

Another product of fossil fuel burning, the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) also showed a marked decline in many areas, including the San Francisco Bay Area, where a 10% decrease in CO2 levels was measured from February to March, 2020. Decreases in carbon monoxide, particulate matter, NO2, and black carbon were also measured in this same region.

Of course this decrease in pollution levels will likely only be temporary. As the relatively short-term COVID-19 crisis eventually wanes, the long-term global issue of climate change and CO2 emissions will still remain a problem. Hopefully, the economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic won't stall worldwide efforts to switch to renewable energy too long, when every passing year counts on the path to mitigating climate change.

nitrogen dioxide China 2020 ESA
Mean nitrogen dioxide concentration over China (Jan 1-20) vs. (Feb 10-25) - [ESA, 2020]
San Francisco carbon dioxide 2020 ACLIMA
San Francisco Bay Area carbon dioxide concentration Feb 6 - Mar 19, 2020 - [ACLIMA]