By Coral Davenport
WASHINGTON — In the crystalline air of the pandemic economy, climate change researchers have been flying a small plane over Route I-95, from Boston to Washington, measuring carbon dioxide levels. Scientists have mounted air quality monitors on Salt Lake City’s light rail system to create intersection-by-intersection atmospheric profiles.
And government scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have started a Covid air quality study to gather and analyze samples of an atmosphere in which industrial soot, tailpipe emissions and greenhouse gases have plummeted to levels not seen in decades.
The data, from Manhattan to Milan to Mumbai, will inform scientists’ understanding of atmospheric chemistry, air pollution and public health for decades to come, while giving policymakers information to fine-tune air quality and climate change laws and regulations in hopes of maintaining at least some of the gains seen in the global shutdown as cars return to the roads and factories reopen.
“It’s certainly not a silver lining — it in no way compares to the over 100,000 deaths from Covid in the U.S.,” said Steve Cicala, an economist at the University of Chicago and an author of the paper. “But 25 percent is a lot. This is the savings of lives that would be achieved if there were a less costly way to improve air pollution.”