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NASA satellite images of China air pollution offer glimpse into coronavirus’ impact on the country


'This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event'

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Recent satellite images of China released by the National Aeronautic and Space Administration illustrate just how heavy an impact the coronavirus outbreak is having on the country.

NASA and European Space Agency pollution tracking satellites captured the recently released images, which show "significant decreases in nitrogen dioxide" over the Asian country, according to a recent post from NASA's Earth Observatory. The post described nitrogen dioxide as "a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities."

This change in pollution levels, the federal agency said "is at least partly related to the economic slowdown following the outbreak of coronavirus" and coincides with the country's efforts to control the viral outbreak.

The satellite images revealed a contrast in nitrogen dioxide levels over China from the beginning of the year with those after the government implemented a series of quarantines that began in virus' epicenter of Wuhan, the latter of which showed a considerable decline in the gas' presence.

NASA also said the pollution reduction was first noted around Wuhan but then spread elsewhere in the country.

And while there is usually a drop in pollution around this time of year because of the lunar new year, the Earth Observatory post noted, the agency's researchers believe this year's decrease is different in both severity of the decrease and the lack of a rebound afterward.

"This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event," Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a statement. "This year, the reduction rate is more significant than in past years and it has lasted longer."

In addition to the quarantines, the decrease in air pollution also coincides with a sharp decline in manufacturing activity as a result of the virus. Reuters reported Friday that China's factory activity dropped in February at its fastest pace since the global financial crisis over a decade ago.

The recent outbreak of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, began in China in mid-December. There have been over 80,000 confirmed cases of the disease in the country and at least 2,912 deaths resulting from it.

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