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Global Impact of COVID-19 Restrictions on the Surface Concentrations of Nitrogen Dioxide and Ozone

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  • C. A. Keller
  • M. J. Evans
  • K. E. Knowland
  • C. A. Hasenkopf
  • S. Modekurty
  • R. A. Lucchesi
  • T. Oda
  • B. B. Franca
  • F. C. Mandarino
  • M. V. Díaz Suárez
  • R. G. Ryan
  • L. H. Fakes
  • S. Pawson


Publication details

JournalAtmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussions
DateAccepted/In press - 21 Jan 2021
DatePublished (current) - 9 Mar 2021
Issue number37
Number of pages32
Pages (from-to)1-32
Original languageEnglish


Social-distancing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread reductions in air pollutant emissions. Quantifying these changes requires a business as usual counterfactual that accounts for the synoptic and seasonal variability of air pollutants. We use a machine learning algorithm driven by information from the NASA GEOS-CF model to assess changes in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3) at 5756 observation sites in 46 countries from January through June 2020. Reductions in NO2 correlate with timing and intensity of COVID-19 restrictions, ranging from 60 % in severely affected cities (e.g., Wuhan, Milan) to little change (e.g., Rio de Janeiro, Taipei). On average, NO2 concentrations were 18 % lower than business as usual from February 2020 onward. China experienced the earliest and steepest decline, but concentrations since April have mostly recovered and remained within 5 % to the business as usual estimate. NO2 reductions in Europe and the US have been more gradual with a halting recovery starting in late March. We estimate that the global NOx (NO + NO2) emission reduction during the first 6 months of 2020 amounted to 2.9 TgN, equivalent to 5.1 % of the annual anthropogenic total. The response of surface O3 is complicated by competing influences of non-linear atmospheric chemistry. While surface O3 increased by up to 50 % in some locations, we find the overall net impact on daily average O3 between February–June 2020 to be small. However, our analysis indicates a flattening of the O3 diurnal cycle with an increase in night time ozone due to reduced titration and a decrease in daytime ozone, reflecting a reduction in photochemical production.

The O3 response is dependent on season, time scale, and environment, with declines in surface O3 forecasted if NOx emission reductions continue.

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© 2021, The Author(s).


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