A University of Liverpool study of air pollution in the UK during the first 100 days of the lockdown has revealed that while nitrogen oxide levels were halved, sulfur dioxide levels increased by more than 100%.
Researchers from the University’s School of Environmental Sciences analyzed data from the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) air quality sensors and UK Met Office stations to see how lockdown measures had affected levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone, and compare it with data from the last seven years.
The study revealed that during this period (from March 23 to June 13 2020) nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels were halved which would be associated with reduced vehicle emissions. Even more surprising, the analysis found that levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2), typically produced by British industry but in sharp decline, were more than double from previous years.
Researchers also explored the local effects of the lockdown on air quality, in seven major UK cities: London, Glasgow, Belfast, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Liverpool.
This shows that NO2 levels in all cities decreased by an average of 37 – 41% although this decrease was slightly larger in Glasgow where it decreased by 44%. However, northern cities were found to experience greater increases in sulfur dioxide.
The lockdown in Britain came into effect on March 23, 2020 when the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, told the country that people ‘must’ stay home and certain businesses must close.
This has resulted in a significant reduction in motorized vehicle use with the first day of lockdown dropping to 69% from normal. It hit a low of 23% on April 13 before continuing to rise back to 77% 100 days after the lockdown. The first 100 days of locking up also coincide with higher temperatures and less humidity.
Lecturer in contemporary and dynamic processes, Dr Jonny Higham, who led the study said: “The results of our analysis are surprising. It is evident that the reduction in motorized vehicles and human activity has a profound impact on air quality as demonstrated by the reduction in nitrogen oxides. it reduces one pollutant, there is a big increase in other pollutants.
“We think these changes could be driven by an imbalance of complex air chemistry near the surface exacerbated by meteorological conditions at extremely low humidity levels and changes in pollution concentrations.
“It is important to note that the complex and relatively stable air composition in the near-surface layer can be disrupted in a short time by significant reductions in primary emissions from human activities. For the case of the UK, getting cleaner air from a large reduction in NO2 may not be as simple as it seems. . “
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