NASA is funding four research projects to figure out how COVID-19 will damage the world

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NASA is funding four research projects to figure out how COVID-19 will damage the world
BCCL
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is funding four new research projects to determine the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the planet.
  • Scientists will measure everything from air quality to the economic impact of the lockdown.
  • NASA is hoping that the information will help guide future policies by illustrating how small changes can have a domino effect on the environment for the better.

The ‘new normal’ isn’t just about working from home or social distancing, it’s also about the effect that the coronavirus pandemic having on the entire planet. To discover the nuances of how society’s response has brought around a change overnight, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( NASA) announced that it’s going to fund four different projects to measure exactly how big the impact has been — and what it could mean for the future.

On the one hand, there’s the impact that you can see with your eyes — empty roads, clear skies, and more animals reclaiming their territory. On the other, there are changes in the atmosphere, water, and the economy that are just beginning to surface.

With a little help from satellite data, on-ground sensors and the treasure trove of computer-based data sets at NASA’s disposal, four Rapid Response and Novel Research in Earth Science (RRNES) proposals have been shortlisted to determine just now unique the ‘new normal’ is going to be for everyone that lives on Earth.

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These are the four projects that are going to drill down on the changes seen due to the impact of COVID-19:


Air pollution has fallen, but the decline is far from equal
NASA is funding four research projects to figure out how COVID-19 will damage the world
NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio​

Ever since countries started shutting themselves down, some of the most polluted cities in the world, including Mumbai and New Delhi in India, saw a dramatic decrease in air pollution levels.

However, Susan Anenberg and Dan Goldberg from George Washington University believe the decline in NO2 concentration during the lockdown period across the world is “inconsistent.” Some show a greater decline in nitrogen oxide — a hazardous greenhouse gas found in air pollution as a result of fossil fuel combustion — than others.
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Anenberg and Goldberg plan to link satellite remote sensing with traffic and weather to determine the reason behind the disparity.

“Since air pollution may be a risk factor for increased severity of COVID-19 outcomes, accurate information about air pollution levels during the COVID-19 crisis is critical to protect public health," Anenberg said. The analysis will help determine how transportation policies can improve public health in the long run.

The fall in air pollution could be changing the ‘chemistry of the atmosphere’

NASA is funding four research projects to figure out how COVID-19 will damage the world
Post the lockdown, not only has Delhi's air quality improved considerably, but with industries shutting down -- Yamuna too appears cleaner while flowing through Delhi.BCCL

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Even though air pollution has fallen to a record low level, experts fear the effect may not be a temporary respite.Kang Sun from the University at Buffalo plans to create a process that will help figure just how just the effects are going to last and how they are going to affect the “chemistry of the atmosphere” in near future.

"Using a new data-driven framework that combines satellite and meteorological data, we will take NASA satellite assets one step further to quantify the reduction in emissions and its impact on air quality chemistry," said Sun.

His research will focus on three regions — at different phases of the pandemic — taking into account the different regulations and policies that are in place to regulate air pollution. With time, the algorithm can be applied to other regions and time periods as well to track harmful gasses in the atmosphere.

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What happens to the air, affects what’s happening in the water
NASA is funding four research projects to figure out how COVID-19 will damage the world
BCCL

The effects of air pollution aren’t restricted to the skies. They often have a negative effect on water quality as lakes are often left without sufficient oxygen levels.

"Socioeconomic policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a dramatic decline in atmospheric nitrogen pollution across the globe. Yet, the impacts on atmospherically deposited nitrogen and resulting changes in coastal aquatic ecology remain unknown," said Maria Tzortziou from the City University of New York, who will be leading the project with her colleague Brice Grunert.
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The more nitrogen oxide in the air means more algae, which in turn eats up more oxygen as it dies. The scientists explain that the crunch on oxygen levels in the water kills off other aquatic life, degrading water quality.

Understanding the correlation between oxygen levels and water quality will in instrumental in guiding future environmental regulations, socioeconomic policy responses and decision making.

Nighttime satellite images will show economic impact of COVID-19

Lastly, a team of researchers plan to use satellite nighttime light data to analyse the social and economic impact of lockdown across the world. Aside from volatile markets, how many lights are on in the night can help in understanding how people are adhering to the coronavirus lockdown and if contaminants are actually effective. Kind of like how people used to shut off electricity to avoid getting bombed during the second world war.
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"Our research team has been analyzing images of Earth at night to decipher patterns of energy use, transportation, migration, and other economic and social activities," Miguel Román said, who will be leading the project.

The analysis can help policymakers and other stakeholders figure out the extent, duration, and recovery from the coronavirus pandemic — and make policies for efficient to address future outbreaks and disasters.


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SEE ALSO: North India’s air is cleaner than it’s ever been in over 20 years — and here are the pictures that prove it
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