European Air Pollution Plummets During Virus Lockdowns

Nitrogen dioxide concentrations over Europe have fallen sharply during coronavirus lockdowns. (Image via European Space Agency)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — New satellite imagery shows a dramatic decrease in air pollution levels in Europe as Covid-19 response measures keep people at home and businesses closed.

Data from the European Space Agency satellite Copernicus released Friday showed a major reduction in nitrogen dioxide levels in the atmosphere above Paris, Milan and Madrid this month compared to March 2019.

Countries throughout Europe have been combating the spread of the novel coronavirus, known as Covid-19, by forcing businesses to close, restricting air travel and requiring people to stay inside their homes.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a speech before a nearly empty parliament Thursday that Europe was in a fight for its life.

A man walks along an empty street in downtown Barcelona, Spain, on Thursday as the lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus continues. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

“History is looking at us at this moment,” she said.

Earlier data from the same satellite showed a substantial decrease in pollution levels over Italy, which was the first European country to experience a widespread outbreak of the virus.

“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,” said Claus Zehner, the satellite’s mission manager at the European Space Agency.

Daily nitrogen levels vary widely so researchers at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute used an average for comparison.

“By combining data for a specific period of time, 10 days in this case, the meteorological variability partly averages out and we begin to see the impact of changes due to human activity,” Henk Eskes, a researcher at the institute, said.

Italy has had some 80,000 confirmed cases and more than 8,00 deaths since the start of the global pandemic, after the virus that originated in China spread around the world. Strict lockdown measures in China have had a similar impact on pollution levels.

Researchers at NASA said last month that pollution levels in China dropped dramatically as that country entered its fourth week of lockdown.

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement at the time.

However, the decrease in air pollution is not expected to be permanent. As China has loosened its lockdown measures, the rates of pollution there have increased.

The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite was launched in 2017 from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in western Russia to measure air quality, ozone & UV radiation.

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