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Air pollution dropped while Florida shut down for the coronavirus, NASA says

Scientists can’t say for sure how much of the reduction was because of lower emissions versus changes in weather.

Air pollution dropped in Florida when people stayed home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to data collected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Scientists used satellites to determine the level of nitrogen dioxide over the state was about 30 percent lower than the five-year average. They observed a month-long period from March 15 to April 15 and reported lower levels than any year since 2005.

NASA tracked nitrogen dioxide levels above Florida for a month during the coronavirus pandemic. Scientists found lower levels of pollution but cannot say exactly how much of that is a result of reduced emissions and how much is a product of warm, dry weather. [NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio]
NASA tracked nitrogen dioxide levels above Florida for a month during the coronavirus pandemic. Scientists found lower levels of pollution but cannot say exactly how much of that is a result of reduced emissions and how much is a product of warm, dry weather. [NASA'S SCIENTIFIC VISUALIZATION STUDIO | NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio]

The caveat, according to NASA, is that officials cannot definitively state the cause. The scientists noted that the middle and southern parts of the state saw a lot of heat and very little rain, and “further analysis is required to rigorously quantify” how much of the change is due to “pollutant emissions versus natural variations in weather.”

Nitrogen dioxide, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, primarily comes from burning fuel. That means vehicles and power plants are major emitters of the pollutant, which the Agency says can irritate people’s respiratory systems and lead to flare-ups of conditions like asthma when found in high concentrations.

The reductions in nitrogen dioxide were especially apparent over cities such as Tampa, Orlando and Miami in maps produced by NASA. Jacksonville, according to scientists, saw levels about 40 percent lower than normal.

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