Special Issue on COVID-19 Aerosol Drivers, Impacts and Mitigation (VI)

Aaron R. Naeger This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Kelley Murphy

Earth System Science Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, AL 35805, USA


Received: May 15, 2020
Revised: August 3, 2020
Accepted: August 9, 2020

 Copyright The Author(s). This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are cited.

Download Citation: ||https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2020.05.0227  

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Cite this article:

Naeger, A.R. and Murphy, K. (2020). Impact of COVID-19 Containment Measures on Air Pollution in California. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 20: 2025–2034. https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2020.05.0227


  • TROPOMI showed NO2 reductions of 20–40% due to the COVID-19 lockdown in California.
  • TROPOMI NO2 reductions were consistent with decreases in traffic activity.
  • NO2 reductions from TROPOMI and OMI were comparable (30–40%) over Los Angeles.
  • TROPOMI better characterized NO2 reductions over smaller cities compared to OMI.
  • Reductions in surface NO2 and PM5 were in close agreement with TROPOMI NO2.


This study used space- and ground-based sensors in conjunction meteorological and traffic information to evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 containment measures on air pollution in California by comparing data from March–April 2020 to the similar period in 2019. Although significantly lower pollution levels were observed throughout the COVID-19 containment period in 2020 compared to 2019, our meteorological analysis found that periods of enhanced precipitation likely contributed to the cleaner environment over the Central Valley and southern California. Therefore, we focused our assessment on a 19-day period of drier conditions across the region. During this period, TROPOspheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) data revealed strong reductions in tropospheric NO2 of 40% in Los Angeles, 38% in Fresno, and about 20% in Bakersfield and San Francisco when compared to 2019. The reductions were mostly within about 10% of the decrease in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which indicates that the decrease in traffic-related NOx due to the COVID-19 lockdown was an important driver of the NO2 reduction. Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) data showed similar NO2 reductions to TROPOMI over Los Angeles during the lockdown, but drastically different results over the other cities where little to no reductions were observed. The close agreement between ground-based and TROPOMI observations indicated that a more accurate assessment of the impacts from the COVID-19 lockdown can be accomplished using TROPOMI rather than OMI data, which is attributed to its improved resolution and sensitivity that can better characterize NO2 pollution associated with fine-scale emissions. Altogether, the space- and ground-based observations provide strong evidence that the containment measures led to NO2 reductions of around 35% in Los Angeles and Fresno and 25% in San Francisco and Bakersfield relative to 2019, along with decreases in PM2.5 and improved air quality at the surface.

Keywords: Air pollution; Emissions, Automotive; Regional air quality; Remote sensing; PM2.5.

Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 20 :2025 -2034 . https://doi.org/10.4209/aaqr.2020.05.0227  

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