The European Union’s space agency’s earth-observation satellites have detected a significant reduction in the pollutant nitrogen dioxide, a byproduct of the use of diesel motors and other human activities, in northern Italy as the advance of the COVID-19 virus has led to drastic measures curtailing ordinary life.
The agency’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service reported Tuesday that with the “abrupt changes in activity levels” in northern Italy, it has tracked a “reduction trend” of nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, for the last four to five weeks.
Similar drops in pollutants were detected in China after the government there implemented widespread shutdowns to try and slow the spread of COVID-19.
NO2 is a short-lived pollutant, staying in the atmosphere generally less than a day before being deposited or reacting with other gases, meaning it remains fairly close to where it was emitted, the agency said.
Most emissions are generated by human activities such as traffic, energy production, residential heating and industry.
“It is quite remarkable that a signal of decreasing activity levels could be detected,” said Vincent-Henri Peuch, the director of the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. “This shows the extent of the measures taken by Italy.”