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Correlating Economic Activity Indicators and Tropospheric Column Nitrogen Dioxide during COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States
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  • Zigang Wei,
  • Shobha Kondragunta,
  • Kai Yang,
  • Hai Zhang,
  • Brian McDonald
Zigang Wei
I.M. Systems Group Inc., NOAA/NESDIS/STAR, College Park, MD, United States

Corresponding Author:zigang.wei@noaa.gov

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Shobha Kondragunta
NOAA College Park, College Park, MD, United States
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Kai Yang
University of Maryland College Park, College Park, MD
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Hai Zhang
I.M. Systems Group Inc., NOAA/NESDIS/STAR, College Park, MD, United States
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Brian McDonald
Chemical Sciences Laboratory, NOAA Earth System Research Laboratories, Boulder, CO, United States
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Most countries around the world took actions to control COVID-19 spread that included social distancing, limiting air and ground travel, closing schools, suspending sports leagues, closing factories etc., leading to economic shutdown. The reduced traffic and human movement compared to Business as Usual (BAU) scenario was tracked by Apple and Android cellphone use; the data showed substantial reductions in mobility in most metropolitan areas. For example in Washington D.C., average distance traveled by people was ~13 km and by April when lockdown was in full effect, the distance reduced to ~5 km. Consistent with reduced mobility, air quality as indicated by satellite observations decreased substantially. Granted that year to year variability in weather patterns can have influence on observed NO2 and aerosol concentrations, but the drop in tropospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) observed by Sentinel 5P Tropospheric Ozone Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) and Suomi NPP Ozone Mapping Profiling Suite (OMPS) observations of NO2 was significant; reductions in observed NO2 were between 15% to 50% between February and April 2020 depending on location and similar reductions in NO2 amount in March and April 2020 compared to March and April 2019. Further, the changes in NO2 across the continental U.S. between 2020 and 2019 correlated well with on-road emissions but did not correlate with changes in emissions from power plants. In the first quarter of 2020, the total amount of NOx emitted on road were 200 times and 7 times larger than that from power plants in LA and NYC, respectively. These findings confirm that power plants are no longer the major source of NO2 in the United States. We also found positive correlation between NO2 and Suomi NPP Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) aerosol optical depth measurements in these urban regions indicating common source sectors for NO2 and aerosols/aerosol precursors.