Lockdowns for COVID-19 in early summer 2020 nearly halved the amount of soot in the atmosphere, benefiting climate and health.

According to the study, which compared two measurement campaigns by the German research aircraft HALO between 2017 and 2020, the concentration of soot in the atmosphere was reduced throughout western and southern Europe. It found that the reduction was about 40 percent due to reduced emissions from human activities.

The team from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, the University of Bremen, the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and the German Aerospace Center reflected on the strong impact of human activities on air quality and the importance of soot as the main air pollutant, and climate driver in the human-dominated age of the Anthropocene.

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The image shows the research aircraft HALO, which was launched into almost empty airspace during the COVID-19 lockdown in May 2020. The aircraft studied the impact of restricted mobility on air quality during the Bluesky research campaign in Germany.
Zenger/DLR

During the COVID-19 lockdowns in early 2020, the research team flew over Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, the UK, France, Spain and Italy, covering more of central, western and southern Europe.

As part of the BLUESKY campaign, with the help of the research aircraft HALO (High Altitude and LOng Range), it determined the soot mass and particle number concentrations in the lower troposphere both in the field and in the vertical profile. The team then compared the results with measurements from July 2017.

At that time, the researchers had examined the area as part of the EU campaign EMeRGe under “normal”, i.e. pre-COVID conditions. The comparison showed a significant improvement in air quality as a result of the pandemic.

On average, the amount of soot in the lower troposphere in southern and western Europe fell by 41 percent. This number was verified using traffic data and fuel consumption data during the lockdown.

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The image shows a section of the HALO trajectory on Tuesday, May 26, 2020. The research aircraft flew over the densely populated Rhine-Main area in Germany even during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Zenger/DLR

The researchers attributed the decline to two main reasons: ongoing efforts to reduce black carbon emissions in Germany and Europe (3 to 9 percent) and restricted mobility due to the pandemic lockdowns, which accounted for 32 to 38 percent.

The comparative data was also incorporated into an Earth system model to determine how reduced black carbon emissions in Europe would affect the climate in the long term. The background is that soot near the ground is a particularly harmful component of particulate matter.

Up in the atmosphere, the tiny particles contribute to global warming because their dark surface heats them up and releases heat into the environment. However, unlike long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, soot is short-lived, remaining in the atmosphere for only a few days to weeks.

“Reducing soot emissions through less burning of fossil fuels such as diesel, coal, oil or wood would also benefit the health of millions of people relatively quickly.

“In addition, our measurements and model calculations show that less soot in the atmosphere makes an important contribution to curbing climate change,” says Mira Pohlker from the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS).

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Two airliners appear to fly close together as they fly over London March 12, 2012. Soot, while harmful to the environment, doesn’t stay around for long, unlike greenhouse gases.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The atmospheric researcher, who also conducts research at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, hopes that some changes in behavior will be maintained during the COVID period, such as more video conferences and working from home and thus fewer flights and trips to work. “I think the pandemic has kickstarted a turnaround.”

Pohlker and the team are currently working on a new study and are also bringing psychologists on board. They want to find out whether offers such as cheap tickets can change people’s mobility behavior in the long term.

“In addition to a general reduction in traffic, it is also important to create incentives for low-emission mobility. From my point of view, the heavily subsidized local public transport is an important driving force, the effect of which on air pollution can now be quantified.” Pohlker adds.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.

https://www.newsweek.com/atmospheric-soot-levels-nearly-halved-during-covid-lockdowns-study-1736399 Atmospheric black carbon levels nearly halved during COVID-19 lockdowns: study

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