Air pollution is down, due to Coronavirus

The overall effect represents the "largest-scale experiment ever" in what reducing industrial emissions could do for our planet.

Rick Docksai | Apr 12, 2020

The pandemic that has killed more than 30,000 people across the globe has indirectly caused a significant drop in air pollution worldwide, according to European Space Agency satellite images. The images show reductions in smog throughout Europe and Asia, which researchers attribute to widespread shutdowns in industrial activity.

The overall effect represents the "largest-scale experiment ever" in what reducing industrial emissions could do for our planet, said Paul Monks, professor of air pollution at the University of Leicester. He suggested that the resulting lower pollution offers a glimpse at life in a future low-carbon economy.

"Not to denigrate the loss of life, but this might give us some hope from something terrible. To see what can be achieved," Monks said.

The images came from the ESA's Sentinel-5P satellite and showed that levels of nitrogen dioxide levels over European and Asian cities and industrial areas were markedly lower over the last six weeks than they were in the same timespan last year.

Nitrogen dioxide is emitted from cars, power plants, and other industrial processes, and researchers think that it may aggravate respiratory ailments such as asthma. Monks suggested that the reduced pollution may bring some near-term benefits for human respiratory health, even though it would not offset the greater loss of life from the disease.

And while it is not a greenhouse gas, it is a byproduct of the same human activities that are responsible for much of humanity's carbon footprint. So less of this gas could also mean that greenhouse-gas emissions are down as well, according to researchers.