Satellites documented the impact of COVID-19 from space

NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are monitoring how COVID-19 has changed the economy and the environment. The three space agencies gathered satellite observations to create a new dashboard that was unveiled today.

The COVID-19 Earth Observation Panel allows users to explore how the ongoing pandemic has affected airport and shipping traffic, city night lights, and agricultural production in locations around the world. It also includes data on greenhouse gases, air quality, and water quality.

“The pandemic was not only leaving behind a staggering number of human suffering. We had a global impact that we could document from space, “said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator at NASA’s Scientific Mission Directorate, in a video posted with the board.” Our three space agencies realized that if we could combine forces We could provide a more powerful set of analytical tools to withstand this rapid crisis. “

JAXA’s ALOS-2 satellite and ESA’s Sentinel-1 satellite observed the density of newly manufactured cars parked at a factory near Beijing Capital International Airport. The charts on the dashboard show how the density of new cars parked there plummeted between December 2019 and February 2020 after the appearance of the new coronavirus in China. Satellite imagery shows that the number of cars being produced increases again in April.

(Left) Red rectangular areas show a parking area occupied by new cars at a car factory near Beijing Airport in 2019 and 2020. In the period of closure, the density of new cars has decreased significantly. (Right) A different example of a Singapore port shows the density of cars falling since the end of April. The government decided to use that parking area for temporary accommodations for COVID-19 patients.
Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

By taking high-resolution images of night lights from space, a NASA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite showed how the lights at the San Francisco Medical Center shone brighter than usual amid the coronavirus outbreak between January and April 2020.

When San Francisco began taking refuge in place in mid-March, the city’s night lights detected from space did not change dramatically. However, the University of California San Francisco Medical Center was lit from January to April.
Image: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA and ESA previously released maps documenting the change in air-polluting nitrogen dioxide in China as a result of the pandemic. The skies cleared when factories closed, planes remained on the ground, and people stopped traveling while they were quarantined at home. The board now includes changes in nitrogen dioxide, which is released by burning fossil fuels, in the United States, Europe, India, and China.

Space agency data shows that the amount of greenhouse gases that humans released into the atmosphere also decreased as the pandemic slowed economies. However, that temporary drop was not significant enough to stop the overall amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions appeared to return to normal in Beijing in April with the end of coronavirus-induced blockages, NASA research program manager Ken Jucks said in a press call today. Nitrogen dioxide contamination also rebounded in China, according to Jucks.

The dashboard will continue to be updated with satellite observations as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. “Our teams are exhausted now, but also very proud to present our work to a global audience today,” said Josef Aschbacher, director of ESA’s Earth Observation Programs, on the call.