Fluctuations in CO2 During Covid 19: NASA

Fluctuations in CO2 During Covid 19: NASA

For the first time, researchers at NASA spotted regional fluctuations in atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2) across the globe due to emissions from human activities during Covid 19 pandemic.

Making use of a combination of NASA satellites and atmospheric modelling, the study used data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) to measure drops in CO2 emissions during the COVID-19 pandemic from space.

The researchers maintain that the study opens new possibilities for tracking the collective effects of human activities on CO2 concentrations in near real-time.


Earlier studies that looked into effects of Covid 19 lockdowns found that global C02 levels dropped slightly in 2020. However, the new study by NASA using high-resolution data with modelling and data analysis tools narrowed down the data to monthly and regional changes. It showed how monthly changes happened due to human activity and which were due to natural causes of a regional scale.

Cities account for more than 70 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions associated with energy production, and rapid, ongoing urbanization is increasing their number and size. The study found that cities with higher population densities generally have lower per capita carbon dioxide emissions, in line with previous bottom-up studies based on emissions inventories. But some densely populated cities emit more carbon dioxide per capita than others.

“Our motivating question was essentially: When people live in denser cities, do they emit less carbon dioxide? The general answer from our analysis suggests, yes, emissions from denser cities are lower,” said Eric Kort, principal investigator and associate professor of climate and space sciences and engineering at the University of Michigan. “It isn’t a complete picture, since we only see local direct emissions, but our study does provide an alternative direct observational assessment that was entirely missing before.”


The study says that densely populated urban areas generally emit less carbon dioxide per person because they are more energy efficient: That is, less energy per person is needed in these areas because of factors like the use of public transportation and the efficient heating and cooling of multi-family dwellings. Another exception to the higher population density/lower emissions observation is affluence. A wealthy urban area, like Phoenix, produces more emissions per capita than a developing city like Hyderabad, India, which has a similar population density. The researchers speculate that Phoenix’s higher per capita emissions are due to factors such as higher rates of driving and larger, better air-conditioned homes.

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