March 2, 2020 2:58 pm

Virus Fears Bring Down Pollution Levels In China

Nasa maps showing the concentrations of nitrogen dioxide over China between January and February. Photograph: Nasa Handout/EPA

WASHINGTON - NASA satellite im­ages show a dramatic fall in pollu­tion over China that is “partly re­lated” to the economic slowdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, the space agency said.

The reduction in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution was first noticed near Wuhan, the epicen­tre of the outbreak, but eventually spread across China, according to NASA scientists who examined data collected by their and Euro­pean Space Agency satellites.

Maps comparing NO2 concen­trations showed a marked decline between January 1-20, before a sweeping quarantine was imposed on Wuhan and other cities, and February 10-25.

“There is evidence that the change is at least partly related to the economic slowdown following the out­break of coronavirus,” NASA’s Earth Observatory said in a statement.

Chinese authorities have taken drastic steps to contain the virus, curbing the movement of people, temporarily closing facto­ries across the country and quar­antining central Hubei province, a key industrial region where the epidemic first appeared.

NO2 is a by product of fossil fuel combustion in vehicles and power plants and can cause respi­ratory problems, such as asthma.

“This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a spe­cific event,” Fei Liu, an air qual­ity researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said.

The 2008 global financial cri­sis saw a decrease in NO2 over sev­eral countries but it was a gradual fall, she said.

This year’s fall came during the Lunar New Year, when facto­ries and businesses close, but re­searchers believe the decline is far greater than could be attributed to the holiday period.

NO2 concentrations over east­ern and central China were 10-30 percent lower than what is normal­ly observed over the time period.

And there has not been a re­bound in levels after the holiday.

“This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer,” Liu said.

“I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have tak­en measures to minimize spread of the virus.”

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