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How have surface NO2 concentrations changed as a result of the UK's COVID-19 travel restrictions?

Dacre, H. F. ORCID:, Mortimer, A. H. and Neal, L. S. (2020) How have surface NO2 concentrations changed as a result of the UK's COVID-19 travel restrictions? Environmental Research Letters, 15 (10). 104089. ISSN 1748-9326

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/abb6a2


Restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to fewer vehicles on UK roads. Since fuel combustion is responsible for a large fraction of UK emissions it is expected that surface NO2 concentrations would reduce as a result. However, over parts of the UK, surface NO2 concentrations have increased following the implementation of travel restrictions. NO2 measurements from 142 Automatic Urban and Rural Network sites are combined with meteorological data from the Met Office high-resolution weather prediction model to build site specific models. These models predict NO2 concentrations given no change in emissions. It is found that both meteorological and emission changes contribute to the observed changes in NO2 concentrations. Given no change in emissions, changes in meteorology between pre- and post-lockdown periods would have led to a mean increase in NO2 concentrations of +6%. Conversely, changes in emissions would have led to a mean reduction in NO2 concentrations of -18%, resulting in the observed total change in NO2 concentrations of -12%. However at some sites the reduction in emissions is smaller than the increase in NO2 concentrations due to meteorology. The largest increases associated with changes in the meteorology are seen at rural sites (+20%) where NO2 measurements are representative of large areas and thus dominated by the regional advection of secondary NO2 from Europe. Conversely, the largest decreases associated with reduced emissions are found at urban traffic and urban background sites (-27% and -14% respectively) where NO2 concentrations are representative of local areas and thus dominated by local reduction in emissions from vehicles. As lockdown measures are relaxed, NO2 concentrations are likely to return to pre-COVID levels, but these results demonstrate that changes in our behaviour can result in positive impacts on air quality and illustrate the effectiveness of travel-reducing strategies in urban areas

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:92773
Publisher:Institute of Physics


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