Visualizing Changes in Nitrogen Dioxide Levels During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was classified as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. That same month, all New York City non-essential businesses were ordered to close by the governor’s office and several residents fled the city to get away from the rapidly spreading virus. There is typically a significant amount of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air from the burning of fossil fuels during mass transportation, especially in larger cities like New York City. But, because all of the non-essential businesses were closed, along with many transportation lines, there was a significant decrease in NO2 in March 2020 compared to previous years.

The data probe function in the NEO analysis tool shows a significant decrease in NO2 levels in March 2020 compared to March 2018 & 2019.

By adding the Nitrogen Dioxide dataset to the analysis tool for March 2018, 2019 & 2020, we can compare NO2 levels over one geographic coordinate using the data probe function or over a distance using the plot transect function. For more information on how this is done, check out our post on NEO Analysis in 10 Easy Steps. According to these New York City snapshots, NO2 levels decreased by roughly half in comparison to the previous 2018 and 2019 average NO2 levels when city operations were normal.

A quick draw of a transect line using the plot transect function shows a decrease in NO2 levels in March 2020 compared to March 2018 & 2019 over New York State.

The Governor of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Joao Dorio, also ordered a shutdown of the state for two weeks at the end of March 2020 to help slow the spread of the virus. The NO2 levels in April 2020 in comparison to the previous two years also decreased by nearly half.

Here is a snapshot of South America with the data probe floating over Sao Paulo, Brazil to compare NO2 levels in April 2018, 2019 & 2020.

Global human behavior changed rapidly as COVID-19 spread across the globe and the change can be detected from satellites in space. NASA scientists are monitoring several atmospheric indicators globally, including NO2, to read a global pulse on how our atmosphere is responding. Although NEO datasets are heavily processed for visualization and should not be used for scientific analysis, we can still qualitatively see changes on a global scale.

Global snapshot of NO2 levels in March 2020.

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