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NASA images show 'dramatic' drop in air pollution amid coronavirus

NASA scientists said air pollution levels dropped in China amid the coronavirus quarantine, Chinese New Year and a related economic slowdown.
Credit: NASA

The NASA and European Space Agency's pollution monitoring satellites found there was a "significant decrease" in air pollution over China, according to an update on the Earth Observatory

Satellite images showing the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a gas emitted by cars, power plants and industrial facilities, compare the month of January before the quarantine to Feb. 10-25 during nationwide quarantines. 

The reduction in NO2, was first observed in Wuhan, China where the novel coronavirus broke out at the end of 2019. Since then, the Chinese government has quarantined millions of people to curb the spread of the virus. 

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

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has been reported in more than 60 countries and the death toll worldwide has reached 3,000. 

NASA said the drop in air pollution also coincided with the Lunar New Year Celebrations, during which businesses and factories close across China. 

“There is always this general slowdown around this time of the year,” said Barry Lefer, an air quality scientist at NASA said on the Earth Observatory. “Our long-term OMI data allows us to see if these amounts are abnormal and why.”  

Scientists believe the Lunar New Year may have played a role in the dropoff, but they also think the decrease has more factors that just the holiday. Additionally, researchers have not seen the air pollution rebound after the holiday. 

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