NASA backs studies on environmental effects of COVID-19 lockdowns

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 07: The view looking east along an empty 42nd street in Times Square amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 7, 2020 in New York City. COVID-19 has spread to most countries around the world, claiming over 270,000 lives with over 3.9 million cases. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MAY 07: The view looking east along an empty 42nd street in Times Square amid the coronavirus pandemic on May 7, 2020 in New York City. COVID-19 has spread to most countries around the world, claiming over 270,000 lives with over 3.9 million cases. (Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
·Associate Editor

You’ve probably heard stories of skies and water clearing up while most people stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, but how much have things improved, really? Scientists are about to rely on NASA technology to find out. The space agency is funding four research projects that will rely on satellites and various data resources to understand how pandemic lockdowns have affected pollution worldwide.

One project will study uneven gains in air quality around the world by connecting satellite data to weather, traffic and other info. Another effort will meld satellite and meteorological data to gauge how reduced air pollution has affected the atmosphere. A third initiative will determine what if any effect lowered air pollution has had on water quality, while a fourth will use light pollution satellite data to examine socioeconomic impacts and the effectiveness of stay-at-home orders.

The results should inform decision making long after the pandemic is over. The air quality research could alter transportation policies to improve health, while the water study could influence environmental regulations. It’s also safe to say that using light pollution changes to study social behavior could have uses well beyond a viral outbreak. In that regard, NASA is betting that money invested in science during the crisis could pay off for decades to come.