The US space agency has published satellite images which show a substantial reduction in pollution levels over China, which they say is “partly related” to the coronavirus.
It claims there has been a significant decrease in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a harmful gas emitted by motor vehicles, industrial facilities and power plants – due to the economic slowdown following the outbreak.
COVID-19, aka, coronavirus, started in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which was placed in lockdown from 23 January. This meant residents were not allowed to leave and businesses ordered to close to reduce the spread of the disease.
According to NASA scientists, the decrease in NO2 pollution was first noticed near the epicentre, Wuhan, but gradually spread across the country.
“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” said Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA.
She recounted seeing a decrease in NO2 over several countries and territories during the 2008 economic recession.
The decrease in NO2 has also coincided with the Lunar New Year celebrations in China and much of Asia during which time businesses and factories close to mark the occasion. However, she said:
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This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer.
“I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimise the spread of the virus.”
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NASA researchers compared NO2 values now with the average detected at this time of year from 2005-19.
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In 2020, NO2 levels in eastern and central China were greatly lower (10-30% lower) than what is normally seen during this time period.