Air pollution plummeted in China due to coronavirus. It’s starting to go up again

When China enforced strict lockdowns and factory closures to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus earlier this year, the rate of air pollution over the country went down significantly, satellite imagery shows.

That same imagery is now showing the rate of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) ramping back up as those measures are slowly lifted due to a steady drop in COVID-19 cases.

The imagery is based off data from the Copernicus Sentinal-5P, one of several satellites that monitor the Earth’s environment for the European Space Agency.

The rapidly decreasing levels of NO2 seen in the imagery coincided with the strict lockdown of Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province — the original epicentre of the outbreak — that saw factories close and vehicle traffic come to a halt starting in January.

The NO2 levels then begin to fade across the rest of China, including its capital, Beijing, as limits on operations and daily life were enforced throughout the country in February.

Claus Zehner, the ESA’s manager of the Copernicus Sentinal-5P mission, said initial estimates show a drop in NO2 levels around 40 per cent around Chinese cities, but said more detailed results would be released in the coming weeks and months.

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