NASA Map Reveals What Pandemic Free 2020 Would Have Looked Like
This year we’ve all got used to images of once-busy cities, suddenly devoid of life. If you live in a major urban centre, you’ll remember how the usual hum of traffic was replaced by an eerie quiet, punctuated by all-too frequent ambulance sirens.
As transport hubs and tourist attractions lay either empty or closed completely, one silver lining emerged from the global shutdown. Pollution levels dropped to some of the lowest levels seen in recent decades, thanks in large part to the temporary reduction of major sources of emissions like cars, air travel and industry.
A new video from NASA has shown just how stark the change was, and gives us a glimpse at what 2020 would have looked like without the pandemic.
NASA uses computer models to study and predict how our Earth will be affected by certain conditions, such as temperature changes, natural disasters and carbon emissions. These models assume that, by and large, our habits remain the same year after year. So what happens to the models when the whole world drastically changes its behaviour in the space of a couple of weeks?
The video reveals how the pandemic’s progression can be seen through sudden changes in emissions of Nitrogen Dioxide – or NO2 – a common pollutant caused by travel and industry. Emissions of NO2 dropped significantly as cities and countries began to go into lockdown, and NASA’s Geos model shows just how much of an impact this had on our atmosphere.
By comparing the model for how emissions would have progressed in 2020 if life had continued as normal with the real-life pollution patterns observed by satellites this year, the model is able to show that NO2 emission dropped by almost two-thirds in areas which shut down during the pandemic.
The model shows how emissions in China began to fall in January, measuring about 60% less than what the model had predicted for that time of year. As the virus spread to Europe, emissions fell by similar rates there, with Madrid also registering 60% less NO2 emissions than predicted. In the United States, the total shutdown of New York – the worst affected area during the first wave – saw the city’s emissions drop by 45%, with 50 of the 61 American cities analysed by the model showing NO2 emissions reduced by between 20-50%.
This model has provided NASA with rare and invaluable evidence of how human activity is directly linked to emissions and air pollution, and also gives us another perspective of just how much our lives have changed over the past year.
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