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Air pollution drastically declines across Europe amid lockdowns

Air pollution drastically declines across Europe amid lockdowns. The European Space Agency reports that air pollution is declining across Europe as strict COVID-19 quarantine measures continue. Some cities have seen levels of nitrogen oxide (NO2) reduced by as much as 54 percent compared to the same timeframe last year. 

Scientists at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) have been monitoring air pollution over Europe using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite’s Tropomi instrument.

New satellite images reveal that from March 13 to April 13, NO2 levels dropped by 45 percent in Madrid, Milan, and Rome compared to the same weeks in 2019. Paris has experienced the most dramatic difference in air pollution, with a 54-percent decline in NO2 levels.

Atmospheric levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are primarily influenced by vehicle emissions and electricity generation. Nitrogen dioxide is associated with respiratory problems, such as inflammation of the airways, asthma attacks, and reduced lung function. 

NO2 concentrations also experience daily fluctuations due to weather conditions. This variability makes it difficult for experts to draw solid conclusions based on short-term measurements. The most reliable information requires data that can be compared over a substantial time period. 

“There are considerable variations of weather in every country from one day to the next, creating a large impact on the dispersion of nitrogen dioxide,” explained Dr. Henk Eskes of KNMI.

“Averaging data over longer periods of time allows us to see clearer changes in concentrations owing to human activity. For this reason, the maps show concentrations over a monthly period and are provided with an uncertainty of 15% which reflects weather variability not accounted for in the monthly averages used.”

In Europe, cases of COVID-19 have doubled in the last ten days. At the same time, the infection rates in the hardest-hit countries have leveled off.

The UK government just announced that quarantine measures will remain in place for at least three more weeks. Some other European countries like Germany are taking the first steps to ease their lockdowns.

Dr. Hans Kluge, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe, is calling for solidarity as countries move to loosen restrictions. Dr. Kluge warns that Europe is now “in the eye of the storm.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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