Human-caused emissions of air pollutants fell during last year’s COVID-19 economic slowdowns, improving air quality in some parts of the world, while wildfires and sand and dust storms in 2020 worsened air quality in other places, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).


Two CIRES scientists working in NOAA laboratories contributed to the WMO’s first-ever Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, released on September 3.

The bulletin highlights the connections between air quality and climate change, including how persistent weather patterns amplified 2020 wildfire conditions, leading to increased regional-scale particulate matter pollution; the impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions on air quality worldwide; and estimates of human mortality due to long-term exposure to ozone and particulate matter pollution. The launch of the report coincides with today’s United Nations International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies.Owen Cooper, a CIRES scientist working in NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory, is lead editor of the first edition of the WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, and Irina Petropavlovskikh, a CIRES scientist in NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, is a co-author. For the new report, NOAA provided long-term ozone monitoring data from atmospheric baseline observatories in Barrow, Alaska; Mauna Loa, Hawaii; and South Pole, Antarctica.“Climate change, caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is happening on a decades-long timescale and is driving environmental changes worldwide. The impacts of air pollutants occur near the surface, on shorter timescales. Despite these differences, air quality and climate change are strongly interconnected,” the report’s authors stated. For example, human activities that release long-lived greenhouse gases into the atmosphere can also increase concentrations of shorter-lived ozone and particulate matter in the atmosphere.

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