Revisiting the levels of Aerosol Optical Depth in South-Southeast Asia, Europe and USA amid the COVID-19 pandemic using satellite observations uri icon


  • The countries around the world are dealing with air quality issues for decades due to their mode of production and energy usages. The outbreak of COVID-19 as a pandemic and consequent global economic shutdown, for the first time, provided a base for the real-time experiment of the effect of reduced emissions across the globe in abetting the air pollution issue. The present study dealt with the changes in Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD), a marker of air pollution, because of global economic shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. The study considered the countries in south and south-east Asia (SSEA), Europe and the USA for their extended period of lockdown due to coronavirus pandemic. Daily Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) from Moderate-resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) and tropospheric column density of NO2 and SO2 from Ozone monitoring instrument (OMI) sensors, including meteorological data such as wind speed (WS) and relative humidity (RH) were analyzed during the pre-lockdown (2017-2019) and lockdown periods (2020). The average AOD, NO2 and SO2 during the lockdown period were statistically compared with their pre-lockdown average using Wilcoxon-signed-paired-rank test. The accuracy of the MODIS-derived AOD, including the changing pattern of AOD due to lockdown was estimated using AERONET data. The weekly anomaly of AOD, NO2 and SO2 was used for analyzing the space-time variation of aerosol load as restrictions were imposed by the concerned countries at the different points of time. Additionally, a random forest-based regression (RF) model was used to examine the effects of meteorological and emission parameters on the spatial variation of AOD. A significant reduction of AOD (-20%) was obtained for majority of the areas in SSEA, Europe and USA during the lockdown period. Yet, the clusters of increased AOD (30-60%) was obtained in the south-east part of SSEA, the western part of Europe and US regions. NO2 reductions were measured up to 20-40%, while SO2 emission increased up to 30% for a majority of areas in these regions. A notable space-time variation was observed in weekly anomaly. We found the evidence of the formation of new particles for causing high AOD under high RH and low WS, aided by the downward vertical wind flow. The RF model showed a distinguishable relative importance of emission and meteorological factors among these regions to account for the spatial variability of AOD. Our findings suggest that the continued lockdown might provide a temporary solution to air pollution; however, to combat persistent air quality issues, it needs switching over to the cleaner mode of production and energy. The findings of this study, thus, advocated for alternative energy policy at the global scale.

publication date

  • 2021
  • 2020