Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Emission Reductions From Pandemic Had Unexpected Effects on Atmosphere

Earth’s atmosphere reacted in surprising ways during the pandemic, showing how closely climate warming and air pollution are linked

The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting limitations on travel and other economic sectors by countries around the globe drastically decreased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions within just a few weeks. That sudden change gave scientists an unprecedented view of results that would take regulations years to achieve.

A comprehensive new survey of the effects of the pandemic on the atmosphere, using satellite data from NASA and other international space agencies, reveals some unexpected findings. The study also offers insights into addressing the dual threats of climate warming and air pollution. “We’re past the point where we can think of these as two separate problems,” said Joshua Laughner, lead author of the new study and a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech in Pasadena, California. “To understand what is driving changes to the atmosphere, we must consider how air quality and climate influence each other.”

Published today in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, the paper grew from a workshop sponsored by Caltech’s W.M. Keck Institute for Space Studies, led by scientists at that institution and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which is managed by Caltech. Participants from about 20 U.S. and international universities, federal and state agencies, and laboratories pinpointed four atmospheric components for in-depth study: the two most important greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane; and two air pollutants, nitrogen oxides and microscopic nitrate particles.

CIRES Visiting Fellow Bart Croes and CIRES Fellow Joost de Gouw are coauthors.

This story was written by NASA JPL Communications. Continue reading here.

CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.

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