If you think some of the world’s top climate scientists are taking a break during COVID-19’s record drop in air pollution, it’s actually quite the opposite. Xinrong Ren, a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (NOAA), has taken four flights in the past week alone to investigate how emissions and pollution drops during the pandemic can help us solve these dilemmas even after the economy reopens.
The pandemic is a unique opportunity to study how human behavior significantly affects climate change. In the Northeast, nitrogen dioxide was 30 percent lower in March 2020 compared to March last year. NOAA scientists want to understand how to continue this trend. They are monitoring ozone and carbon monoxide, as well as greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.
To analyze polluting molecules, the team uses wind patterns to determine what regions pollution is coming from and even determine the source. The researchers, and their 500 pounds of equipment, work out of a Cessna, a research plane that fits about 10 people. The route is predetermined, but sometimes the team uses real-time data to follow leads they find in the sky.
The reduction in pollution may not last long after the COVID-19 crisis, but the valuable data captured will. Hopefully, it will allow scientists to better advise leaders and companies about their contribution to pollution and the most effective steps needed to mitigate it.