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Air pollution and Covid-19

on 12 November 2020

Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems of our time. According to a new report from the European Environment Agency (EEA), air pollution now contributes to one in eight deaths in Europe. Observations from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite have been vital in tracking the evolution of air pollution, specifically nitrogen dioxide concentrations, across Europe.

This year, satellite data have been widely used to monitor fluctuations in air quality brought on by strict COVID-19 measures. The Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, part of the European Copernicus programme, has been continuously mapping changes of air pollution since its launch in 2017.

Scientists from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB) have used satellite data from Sentinel-5P and ground-based data in order to pinpoint the correlation between COVID-19 and the effects of air pollution across Europe.

The graph below shows the averaged nitrogen dioxide concentrations over five major European cities – Milan, Madrid, Paris, Berlin and Budapest. The upper panel shows concentrations (using a 14-day moving average) in 2019 compared to 2020 using Sentinel-5P data, while the lower panel shows in situ observations.

2020 11 Post Covid Image B

The shades of grey denote the lockdown periods in 2020, moving progressively from strict (dark grey) to loose (light grey) measures. The percentages shown in red represent the reduction in 2020 compared to 2019 over the same period.

The data shows that the strongest reductions of 40–50% were seen in the first stage of the lockdown in southern Europe, specifically Spain, Italy and France. In July and August 2020, the data suggests that the concentrations are still 10% to 20% lower than pre-COVID levels.

You can read more about the topic at this link.

Image credits: the images contain modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2019-20), processed by KNMI/BIRA-IASB