Anti-Coronavirus Measures Improve Air Quality

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David Carrillo

The satellite images published by the European Space Agency show a considerable reduction on the nitrogen dioxide concentration

The coronavirus preventive measures decreed by both the Catalan Generalitat and the Spanish Government urge citizens not to leave their homes, but for some exceptional cases. These restrictions on free movement help prevent contagion spreading therefore, they also prevent collapse across the country because of the pandemic. Even though the negative impact of confinement on the global economy, there is an oasis in the middle of these empty streets: global pollution is being considerably reduced.  

Only two weeks ago, satellite images and data collected by a specialised climate science website CarbonBrief already indicated that the COVID-19 crisis had achieved a 25% reduction of CO2 emissions in China and a 36% reduction of coal consumption by power plants. Fei Liu, air quality researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center assured that she had never seen such "a dramatic drop" within such a broad area.

It was only a matter of days before the results at European level reached our ears. The European Space Agency (ESA) has published images that prove the air quality improvement, especially in northern Italy. The time-lapse from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite reveals that the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and other polluting gases have reduced conspicuously since the beginning of 2020.

Claus Zehner, manager of the satellite mission from which images were obtained, has ensured that "the reduction of emissions matches with the blockade in Italy, which causes less traffic and industrial activity". Santiago Gassó, atmospheric sciences researcher at NASA has reiterated on his Twitter account that the data is very enlightening.

Barcelona lungs take a breath

If we pay attention to the satellite images, we can also appreciate a pollution decline within the metropolitan areas of Madrid and Barcelona. The environmental effects of the #StayAtHome movement have already become a reality in the city of Barcelona. Last Friday, March 13th, the map of NO2 pollution in Barcelona was full of fair air quality areas. On the other hand, on Monday, March 16th, the aerial view of the city was tinged with unusually good air quality.

According to public data, the 44,6% reduction in traffic inside the city between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Monday has been one of the positive incentives to encourage such low pollution levels. There is a struggle to find quick solutions to ease the coronavirus pandemic, but this crisis is also showing some clues to contain the world's climate emergency once the confinement is over.

The continuity of low pollution levels due to the confinement in the Catalan capital is foreseen. Besides, the arrival of a new anticyclone with rain and wind will contribute to keeping the air quality at scales of recent days. 

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