Effects of COVID-19 lockdowns on fine particulate matter concentrations

WashU affiliated authors: Melani S. Hammer, Aaron von Donkelaar, Randall V. Martin, Erin E. McDuffie (Dept. of Energy, Environmental, and Chemical Engineering)

Abstract: Lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic provide an unprecedented opportunity to examine the effects of human activity on air quality. The effects on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are of particular interest, as PM2.5 is the leading environmental risk factor for mortality globally. We map global PM2.5 concentrations for January to April 2020 with a focus on China, Europe, and North America using a combination of satellite data, simulation, and ground-based observations. We examine PM2.5 concentrations during lockdown periods in 2020 compared to the same periods in 2018 to 2019. We find changes in population-weighted mean PM2.5 concentrations during the lockdowns of −11 to −15 μg/m3 across China, +1 to −2 μg/m3 across Europe, and 0 to −2 μg/m3 across North America. We explain these changes through a combination of meteorology and emission reductions, mostly due to transportation. This work demonstrates regional differences in the sensitivity of PM2.5 to emission sources.

DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg7670