There is a lot of conjecture. There is a lot of assumption. All based on visual indicators that we see in images shared on social media and elsewhere. Clear blue skies in most major cities around the world, swans returning to the canals of Venice, wildlife making its presence notes in some other cities. All that will soon have exact statistics that will tell us the exact impact that the COVID pandemic has had on the pollution levels around the world. NASA is funding four research projects that will collect and analyze data from various sources, including satellites, to give us an exact picture.
“Such widespread, rapid change in human activity is unprecedented and its effects on our planet and our lives are only just beginning to be realized. NASA’s Earth Science Division is supporting the science community as it investigates the many changes this unique situation has brought to light,” says NASA. The four projects will focus on the uneven gains in urban air quality around the world, impact of the reduction of pollution on the atmosphere, air pollution and the link to the quality of water as well as the economic impact from the shift of human activity. The funding comes as part of the Rapid Response and Novel Research in Earth Science (RRNES) initiative.
It is perhaps very important to understand the reasons why there have been uneven gains in air quality in different cities around the world. According to Susan Anenberg and Dan Goldberg of the George Washington University, initial analysis of satellite data seems to suggest that there has been a decrease in NO2 concentrations across cities globally during the lockdown periods, but it has been inconsistent. They say that cities in China and Italy have registered much quicker decline in NO2 concentrations as humans went indoors, compared with some cities in the US, for example. “Our project will link satellite remote sensing with weather, traffic counts, and other data to shed light on why we are seeing these inconsistent effects of COVID-19 lockdowns on air quality in different cities around the world,” says Goldberg.
The reduction in pollution is having an impact on the atmosphere and University at Buffalo scientist Kang Sun is developing a process which will allow scientists and researchers to not only understand how long these reductions will last but also how the chemistry of the atmosphere is changing. “Using a new data-driven framework that combines satellite and meteorological data, we will take NASA satellite assets one step further to quantify the reduction in emissions and its impact on air quality chemistry,” says Sun. The research will focus on the polluted regions of Jianghan Plain including Wuhan in China, Po Valley in Italy, and southern California.
The exact changes in the pollution levels and how that is impact the atmosphere and everything else around us, will make for rather interesting reading. There are no two ways about it