Sudden changes in nitrogen dioxide emissions over Greece due to lockdown after the outbreak of COVID-19

Koukouli, M.-E., Skoulidou, I., Karavias, A., Parcharidis, I., Balis, D., Manders, A., Segers, A., Eskes, H. and van Geffen, J.: 2021,
Atmos. Chem. Phys. 21, 1759-1774.


The unprecedented order, in modern peaceful times, for a near-total lockdown of the Greek population as a means of protection against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, commonly known as COVID-19, has generated unintentional positive side-effects with respect to the country's air quality levels. Sentinel-5 Precursor/Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (S5P/TROPOMI) monthly mean tropospheric nitrogen dioxide (NO2) observations show an average change of -34% to +20% and -39% to -5% with an average decrease of -15% and -11% for March and April 2020 respectively, compared with the previous year, over the six larger Greek metropolitan areas; this is mostly attributable to vehicular emission reductions. For the capital city of Athens, weekly analysis was statistically possible for the S5P/TROPOMI observations and revealed a marked decline in the NO2 load of between -8% and -43% for 7 of the 8 weeks studied; this is in agreement with the equivalent Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI)/Aura observations as well as the ground-based estimates of a multi-axis differential optical absorption spectroscopy ground-based instrument. Chemical transport modelling of the NO2 columns, provided by the Long Term Ozone Simulation European Operational Smog (LOTOS-EUROS) chemical transport model, shows that the magnitude of these reductions cannot solely be attributed to the difference in meteorological factors affecting NO2 levels during March and April 2020 and the equivalent time periods of the previous year. Taking this factor into account, the resulting decline was estimated to range between ~-25% and -65% for 5 of the 8 weeks studied, with the remaining 3 weeks showing a positive average of ~-10%; this positive average was postulated to be due to the uncertainty of the methodology, which is based on differences. As a result this analysis, we conclude that the effect of the COVID-19 lockdown and the restriction of transport emissions over Greece is ~-10%. As transport is the second largest sector (after industry) affecting Greece's air quality, this occasion may well help policymakers to enforce more targeted measures to aid Greece in further reducing emissions according to international air quality standards.

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created: 9 February 2021
last modified: 6 April 2021