The new trend of social distancing due to the COVID-19 outbreak has created a few unforeseen benefits. As more people stay indoors or work from home, there have been reported reductions in air pollution in several cities. As social distancing rules begin to lift in several countries, scientists are unsure of whether these effects will be temporary or permanent.


Improved Air Quality


Several months after the COVID-19 crisis began in March 2020, scientists have noticed significant air quality improvements and have conducted scientific studies on the matter. They claim that changes in atmospheric chemical reactions have led to reduced toxic emissions in the air and a cleaner atmosphere. 


However, they mention that the link between the pandemic and cleaner air is nonlinear. Atmospheric chemistry is too complicated to measure and determine the exact cause of changes in air quality.


Reductions in Nitrogen Oxides Levels


The most obvious cause of this improved air quality is less travel due to stay-at-home pandemic orders. Fewer vehicles are on the road and in the sky, so there are reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides, a major contributor to air pollution. NO2 is found in smog that hangs over urban areas and can be seen from space. Satellite images of major cities have proven the scientists’ evidence of visible reductions in air pollution.


The images show decreased levels of NO2 in areas where there are fewer diesel-powered vehicles. Diesel cars are known to emit more of this emission than gasoline-powered cars. However, stating that reduced NO2 emissions are linked directly to the COVID-19 pandemic is a complicated issue. 


The studies of meteorology and emissions are based on seasonal variations. Naturally, the levels of NO2 decrease as winter becomes spring. Furthermore, NO2 levels have been declining due to other environmentally-conscious human activities, such as ride-sharing and the use of green vehicles.


Cleaner air is one of the numerous side effects of the coronavirus pandemic. However, there is no clear linkage between improved air quality and an unstable health crisis that has only occurred in recent months. Although having fewer cars on the road is one result, many other factors cause air pollution levels to rise and decline over time.