Geography, Earth and environment at Brighton

Could a reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions cause other problems?

Research involving the University of Brighton during COVID-19 lockdown claims that while some harmful pollutants declined, others were able to thrive.

Dr Kevin WycheThe research, led by Dr Kevin Wyche, Principal Lecturer in Atmospheric Science, found that a reduction of vehicles on the road during UK lockdown led to a reduction in the levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the air, which in turn brought about an increase in the average amount of harmful ozone (O3) and other pollutant gasses in certain populated areas of the UK. The research also indicates that the changes in pollutant emissions, as the country locked down, led to an increase in the reactivity of the air.

Using the Advanced Air Quality research observatory at the university’s Falmer campus, lockdown allowed the study to predict how the atmosphere could react to potential outcomes of policy interventions, including the large-scale reduction of NOx emissions as we attempt to move to a low carbon future.

The research has called for governments and policy makers to fully consider the complex trace composition and reactivity of the atmosphere if radical changes are made.

The paper says there is a global need for pollutant emissions reductions to combat poor air quality and climate change, and for a better understanding of atmospheric effects and interactions with the impact of pandemics like COVID-19.

Dr Wyche said: “The atmosphere lies in a state of chemical balance and the widespread, dramatic overnight reduction in NOx emissions as we all parked our cars led, in certain environments, to an increase in ozone pollution.

“At this time, it is important we understand what is happening with our atmospheric chemistry, while we are as a society so vulnerable to a devastating respiratory virus.

“It is vital that we know what is happening with respiratory pollutants, such as ozone”.

The focus of the research is now moving towards the impact of lockdown on the potential increase in number concentration of ultrafine particles, which are particularly penetrative and harmful.

Read the full paper, ‘Changes in ambient air quality and atmospheric composition and reactivity in the South East of the UK as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown’.

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Stephanie Thomson • October 20, 2020

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