Researchers from several research institutes presented their results at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting. It was found that the environment is changing quickly, and the timing of the changes indicates that the pandemic might be the reason. The deforestation rates are gradually changing in some places. Other effects are diminishing air pollution, improving water quality, snow becoming more reflective since the pandemic started earlier in 2020.
Engineers and scientists used remote sensing data to find how the world is gradually changing in the COVID-19 pandemic, by comparing the remote sensing data with the pre-pandemic trends.
What satellite images say about the environmental condition?
Some satellite images as well as the data from Landsat showed a reduction in environmental pollution. In India, industrial activities like crushing stones for construction projects, slowed or halted because of the COVID-19 lockdowns. The surface air measurement and the Landsat thermal infrared data revealed that air pollution had reduced significantly. A study also showed that the density of the air pollutant called particulate matter 10 fell around one-third to one-fourth of pre-pandemic levels in India.
Researchers also found several social media posts about the clean atmosphere in Delhi. Initial data showed that the air quality was gradually improving during the pandemic. Less air pollution indicated the chances of less dust and low snow accumulation. Air pollutants and dust affect snow albedo. It has been found that cleaner snow has higher albedo, and this means greater reflecting power of snow.
The findings were confusing in some areas of the United States. For example, San Francisco, California saw changes in rainfall which made it a little difficult to predict whether the pandemic impacted the water quality. But more clear pictures were available in the western Manhattan region of New York City.
The changes not to last too long
Sewage water from businesses and homes, and as the runoff from streets, is treated in the wastewater treatment plants before it is released into the nearby rivers. When the city passed the stay-at-home order in March, many commuters in Manhattan started working from home. Fewer people producing the pollutants meant that fewer particles entered in the water in Hudson River. Satellite data found that more than 40 percent drop in the turbidity during the pandemic in the section of Hudson River.
Both models revealed that snow in the Indus Valley was comparatively cleaner during COVID-19 lockdown. Using dust to measure the levels of all pollutants, these models found that pollutants depositing on snow decreased by around 36 ppm below the pre-pandemic average.
Snowmelt is a vital source of drinking water for most of the people living in the Indus River region. While any changes in albedo will not change the amount of snowmelt, however, it would change the exact timing of when the snow melts, affecting the water supply in that region.
Water has become clear in the western Manhattan region as there were fewer people traveling to Manhattan during the pandemic.
The better quality of water quality might not last. Once people return to the pre-pandemic behaviors, the water quality will be reverting as well. Many of the above environmental changes that the researchers observed are not going to last if we go back to the pre-pandemic ways.
For getting more insight into the ways the environment responds to the changes in human behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic, refer to NASA’s COVID-19 dashboard.