The role of emission reductions and the meteorological situation for air quality improvements during the COVID-19 lockdown period in central Europe


The lockdown measures taken to prevent a rapid spreading of the coronavirus in Europe in spring 2020 led to large emission reductions, particularly in road traffic and aviation. Atmospheric concentrations of NO2 and PM2.5 were mostly reduced when compared to observations taken for the same time period in previous years; however, concentration reductions may not only be caused by emission reductions but also by specific weather situations. In order to identify the role of emission reductions and the meteorological situation for air quality improvements in central Europe, the meteorology chemistry transport model system COSMO-CLM/CMAQ was applied to Europe for the period 1 January to 30 June 2020. Emission data for 2020 were extrapolated from most recent reported emission data, and lockdown adjustment factors were computed from reported activity data changes, e.g. Google mobility reports. Meteorological factors were investigated through additional simulations with meteorological data from previous years. The results showed that lockdown effects varied significantly among countries and were most prominent for NO2 concentrations in urban areas with 2-week-average reductions up to 55 % in the second half of March. Ozone concentrations were less strongly influenced (up to ±15 %) and showed both increasing and decreasing concentrations due to lockdown measures. This depended strongly on the meteorological situation and on the NOx /  VOC emission ratio. PM2.5 revealed 2 %–12 % reductions of 2-week-average concentrations in March and April, which is much less than a different weather situation could cause. Unusually low PM2.5 concentrations as observed in northern central Europe were only marginally caused by lockdown effects. The lockdown can be seen as a big experiment about air quality improvements that can be achieved through drastic traffic emission reductions. From this investigation, it can be concluded that NO2 concentrations can be largely reduced, but effects on annual average values are small when the measures last only a few weeks. Secondary pollutants like ozone and PM2.5 depend more strongly on weather conditions and show a limited response to emission changes in single sectors.
QR Code: Link to publication