Emissions over China and Italy plunge during coronavirus outbreak, satellite images reveal

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Emissions have dropped significantly over Italy and portions of China as a result of the near-total shutdown from the novel coronavirus, satellite images reveal.

As the pandemic has spread, satellites orbiting Earth have observed lowered air pollution over Italy and lowered nitrogen-dioxide emissions over China.

TROPOMI, the Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument onboard the Copernicus satellite, has been observing these atmospheric changes from space. The effort is a collaboration among the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Commission, the Netherlands Space Office, industry, data users and scientists.

Claus Zehner, ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission manager, said in a statement: “The decline in nitrogen dioxide concentrations over the Po Valley in northern Italy is particularly evident."

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A view from space of how emissions are changing in response to coronavirus. A view from space of how emissions are changing in response to coronavirus.

A view from space of how emissions are changing in response to coronavirus. A view from space of how emissions are changing in response to coronavirus. ((ESA))

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Josef Aschbacher, ESA’s director of earth observation programs, said in a statement: “Satellites offer a unique vantage point to monitor the health of our planet. Sentinel-5P is one of seven Copernicus satellites in orbit today. It currently provides the most accurate measurements of nitrogen dioxide and other trace gases from space."

A combination of satellite observations and computer models of the atmosphere showed a 20- to 30-percent decrease in surface particulate matter over huge parts of China.

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“As nitrogen dioxide is primarily produced by traffic and factories, it is a first-level indicator of industrial activity worldwide. What is clearly visible is a significant reduction of nitrogen dioxide levels over China, caused by reduced activity due to COVID-19 restrictions, but also the Chinese New Year in January," Aschbacher said.

“The Copernicus program is a perfect example of how space serves all European citizens by combining the political strength of the EU with the technical excellence of ESA," he added.