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Global emissions down due to coronavirus response

States sue to block EPA's coal power plant emissions rollback
Posted at 4:47 PM, Mar 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-08 18:52:37-04

With more and more of us working from home and avoiding travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, an unintended result is happening: less air pollution in our atmosphere.

In China, a drastic drop in nitrogen dioxide was observed by the European Space Agency's Sentinel-5 satellite between early January and late February. Nitrogen dioxide forms from emissions of cars, trucks, buses, and power plants, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

NASA scientists first noticed the reduction over Wuhan before spreading throughout the country.

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Nitrogen dioxide comparison in China from Jan 1 - Feb 25, 2020 Source: NASA Earth Observatory, Joshua Stevens, Copernicus Sentinel 5P/ESA

A similar event is happening in Italy due to the pandemic. With the nation under lockdown, a decline in nitrogen dioxide has been significantly noticeable in the northern part of the country, according to the European Space Agency, or ESA.

Animations of the change in nitrogen dioxide emissions over Italy from January to March can be found here:

Now, the United States is beginning to notice the reduced emissions, especially in areas hardest hit by the pandemic.

This image from Earther already shows what impacts coronavirus and the resulting shelter-in-place/quarantine has had on nitrogen dioxide emissions in California and here in Arizona.

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Nitrogen dioxide emissions in the West from Jan 20 - Mar 20, 2020

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality tells ABC 15 that they are currently analyzing data using a computer model from the EPA.

"Between March 16 and 22 the model indicated there was about a 37% drop in nitrogen oxides, or NOx, compared to 2019," stated ADEQ spokesperson Erin Jordan.

In the Phoenix metro, vehicles driving on the roads produce the majority of nitrogen oxides and are the biggest contributor to man-made ozone, a harmful pollutant in high concentrations. The last time there was a drop in ozone levels due to reduced traffic was during the Great Recession.

However, with the recent wet weather, there are more plants growing in the area, which leads to an increase in VOCs, or Volatile Organic Compounds.

VOCs can also increase ozone, and with longer days, expect higher ozone levels.

"Simply put, there is no clear trend at this time, and we need to gather more data and do more analysis," Jordan said.

An interactive map showing the changes in emissions worldwide can be found here: