Many countries in Europe, including the UK, France, Spain and Italy, have been placed under lockdown to battle the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, fewer cars are on the road, and the aviation industry has virtually come to a halt.
Data from the ESA’s Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, which monitors pollution across the planet, shows a drastic drop in nitrogen dioxide levels across Europe and China, which is still under lockdown.
The decline in pollution has been attributed to the COVID-19 outbreak, according to scientists from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI).
Data from the ESA, which was recorded between March 14 and March 25, shows the drop in pollution is the strongest over Milan, Madrid and Paris.
Henk Eskes, from KNMI, said: “The nitrogen dioxide concentrations vary from day to day due to changes in the weather.
“Conclusions cannot be drawn based on just one day of data alone.
“By combining data for a specific period of time, 10 days in this case, the meteorological variability partly averages out and we begin to see the impact of changes due to human activity.
“The chemistry in our atmosphere is non-linear. Therefore, the percentage drop in concentrations may differ somewhat from the drop in emissions.
“Atmospheric chemistry models, which account for daily changes in weather, in combination with inverse modelling techniques are needed to quantify the emission based on the satellite observations.
“For quantitative estimates of the changes in the emissions due to transportation and industry, we need to combine the Tropomi data from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite with models of atmospheric chemistry. These studies have started, but will take some time to complete.”
Previous analysis from Stanford University found the drop in nitrogen dioxide across the planet could save tens of thousands of lives.
Environmental resource economist Marshall Burke has calculated that the two months of pollution reduction has saved the lives of 4,000 children under five and 73,000 adults over 70 in China.
That is around 70,000 more lives saved than the coronavirus outbreak has killed.
Mr Burke wrote on the blog G-FEED: “Given the huge amount of evidence that breathing dirty air contributes heavily to premature mortality, a natural – if admittedly strange – question is whether the lives saved from this reduction in pollution caused by economic disruption from COVID-19 exceeds the death toll from the virus itself.
“Even under very conservative assumptions, I think the answer is a clear ‘yes’.”