By: Amanda Quinn
Summary: Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19 specifically in Wuhan, China, the residents were ordered to stay inside, only leave when necessary, and almost all work was stopped until the outbreak was contained. This included airplane industries, power plants, factories of all kinds, and more to shut down immediately and with that, stopping the majority of greenhouse gas emissions that are usually released into the atmosphere. Although COVID-19 is notoriously known for having an extremely high death rate, air pollution contributes to more than one million deaths in China each year. With the inability to pollute the Earth as much as usual since the majority of citizens are locked inside their homes, there has been an immense decrease in the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air, one of the main greenhouse gases released when burning fossil fuels. This has helped the skies seem to look like they are clearing up and reports from people living in Shanghai, China they say “it's been some of the most pristine blue skies that they remember over the winter,” (NPR). These reports come from the fact that when comparing January-February of 2019’s levels of nitrogen dioxide to now the NO2 emissions were roughly between 250-400 m2. At the same time this year, they are between 50-125 m2 which is a drastic difference of almost more than 100 m2. From records of years before there has never been a difference this large in the air quality over Wuhan, China. Although this air quality clearing comes with a cost, it probably would not have ever happened on its own, making now the perfect time to maintain it where it is and not let it bounce back to where it was last year hopefully marking a turning point in climate change.
Why we should care? With the extremely large population in China and the need to provide for more people than any other country, they emit more greenhouse gases than what should be taken up by the atmosphere leaving the rest of it to wallow over the country in large, gloomy pollution clouds. An unintended benefit of the COVID-19 lockdown is that the NO2 emissions have plummeted from last year’s records making the skies noticeably more clear.
Example News Article:
I found this topic especially interesting because nitrogen dioxide emissions seem to be increasing at a higher rate every single year and there has yet to be a time when they have dramatically dipped as there is right now. It is common sense that since factories and plants have shut down and entire cities in China are on lockdown the emissions of greenhouse gases have slowed in result, but it is what happens after that is so intriguing. As expected, when pollution decreases air quality will become clearer and less contaminated which is exactly what is happening in Wuhan, China right now with the city having been on a tight lockdown with no air travel coming in or out and little to no road traffic due to people not needing to go to work in the meantime. This has reduced NO2 emissions dramatically showing a drop to upwards of 100 m2 of the greenhouse gas less than what was in the air at this same time last year.
Science in Action.
Dr. Fei Liu works for NASA as an air quality research scientist and for Universities Space Research Association (USRA).
Lauri Myllyvirta is the lead analyst for the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
- Dr. Liu has been researching the air quality in China and has written multiple research papers on the subject which is why she seems qualified and relevant to the topic I chose to research. She is also in the process of creating a new methodology that would contain carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants all while using satellite observations of emitted nitrogen dioxide.
- Lauri Myllyvirta has been an established air quality researcher for well over three and a half years now where he has lead both the Energy and Clean Air analytics and for the Global Air Pollution Unit which deems him a reliable source for understanding what it means that China’s air pollution is so low now out of nowhere. He has researched different ways in order to decrease climate change starting with minimizing our carbon dioxide emissions.