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Urban air quality improves in US as coronavirus empties highways

Air quality in the United States has improved since the coronavirus crisis emptied the roads of traffic, according to preliminary findings by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.

This gives the country a futuristic glimpse of the clearer skies that could come with an electric vehicle fleet, said a Reuters report on Wednesday.

Using satellites, airplanes and ground monitors, NOAA researchers say they have observed a 25 percent to 30 percent reduction in smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions along with big cuts in volatile organic compounds and greenhouse gases in both the heavily populated US Northeast and in Colorado’s urban cluster.

The so-called COVID Air Quality Study, which focuses on those two disparate regions of the country, “offers a glimpse into a potential future of urban air quality, due to the ongoing electrification of the US transportation fleet,” NOAA said.

“We can learn lessons from this shutdown,” said Xinrong Ren, a researcher at the NOAA Air Resources Laboratory in Maryland, who added he expected urban areas of the United States would see similar improvements in air quality if half the US car fleet was electrified and more people continued to work from home.

NOAA said it would continue to monitor emissions into the summer, as states and cities reopen businesses, in the hopes it can further isolate the contribution of road travel to air quality, said the Reuters report.

Other parts of the world have also recorded improvements in air quality since the coronavirus outbreak, including the notoriously smog-filled Indian city of New Delhi and industrialised parts of northern China, a thin silver lining to a health crisis that has killed almost 290,000 people across the globe.