News ID: 266881
Published: 0735 GMT March 14, 2020

Dramatic satellite footage shows 'notable drop' in air pollution over Italy

Dramatic satellite footage shows 'notable drop' in air pollution over Italy

Dramatic footage from the European Space Agency (ESA) Copernicus satellite reveals a 'notable drop' in air pollution over Italy after the coronavirus lockdown.

ESA shared an animation that showed a significant change in the pollution levels over Italy between January and March, particularly over Po Valley in the north, reported.

In an attempt to reduce the spread of the deadly disease, Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a lockdown of the entire country.  

The animation is made with data from a special instrument called Tropomi on the Copernicus Sentinel-5 satellite that maps traces of noxious gases in the atmosphere.

Italy closed schools, restaurants, museums and other venues —  as well as limited large gatherings — all of which reduced the number of polluting activities.

ESA's Claus Zehner, Sentinel-5P mission manager, said, “The decline in nitrogen dioxide emissions over the Po Valley in northern Italy is particularly evident.

“Although there could be slight variations in the data due to cloud cover and changing weather, we are very confident that the reduction in emissions that we can see, coincides with the lockdown in Italy causing less traffic and industrial activities.'

Similar changes in pollution levels were noted by NASA researcher Santiago Gasso when studying other data from Copernicus.


He said: “In one month, there is a clear decrease of NO2 levels (a pollution marker) in northern Italy according to the satellite sensor.”

The satellite that captured the data is the first Copernicus mission dedicated to monitoring our atmosphere.

Its Tropomi instrument maps a range of trace gases such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide, methane, carbon monoxide and aerosols.

All of these gases affect the air we breathe and therefore our health, said ESA.

The same ESA satellite also revealed a drop in air pollution over China with tiny particles slashed in the wake of coronavirus.

The country's government closed down much of its industrial activity and restricted air and car travel to limit the spread of the killer virus.

The Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) observed a decrease of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) for February relative to the previous three years of between 20 and 30 per cent, Copernicus said in a statement.

PM2.5 is one of the most important air pollutants regarding health impacts according to the World Health Organization.   

Nitrogen dioxide is a noxious gas which is released during fuel combustion and emitted by cars, power plants and industrial facilities. 

It forms when fossil fuels such as coal, gas or diesel are burned at high temperatures and can cause a range of harmful effects on the lungs including increased inflammation of the airways and a greater risk of asthma attacks. 

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

“Given the growing importance and need for the continuous monitoring of air quality, the upcoming Copernicus Sentinel-4 and Sentinel-5 missions will monitor key air quality trace gases and aerosols,” the agency said.

“These missions will provide information on air quality, stratospheric ozone and solar radiation, as well as climate monitoring.”

Josef Aschbacher, ESA's Director of Earth Observation Programmes, said the Tropomi instrument on the Copernicus Sentinel satellite was used to capture the changing atmosphere over Italy.

“It's the most accurate instrument measuring air pollution from space,” he said.

“'These measurements, globally available thanks to the free and open data policy, provide crucial information for citizens and decision makers.'

Europe is now the 'epicenter' of coronavirus with more daily cases on the continent than China was suffering at the height of its outbreak, the World Health Organization said.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the stark assessment as he bemoaned the 'tragic milestone' of 5,000 global deaths from Covid-19.

He added that Europe now has 'more reported virus cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China'.

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