First Annual Report Highlights Links Between Air Quality and Climate Change


Fires, dust storms, COVID impacted air quality in 2020

Human-caused emissions of air pollutants fell during last year’s COVID-19 economic slowdowns, improving air quality in some parts of the world, while wildfires and sand and dust storms in 2020 worsened air quality in other places, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Two CIRES scientists working in NOAA laboratories contributed to the WMO’s first-ever Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, released on September 3.

The bulletin highlights the connections between air quality and climate change, including how persistent weather patterns amplified 2020 wildfire conditions, leading to increased regional-scale particulate matter pollution; the impact of COVID-19 travel restrictions on air quality worldwide; and estimates of human mortality due to long-term exposure to ozone and particulate matter pollution. The launch of the report coincides with today’s United Nations International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies.

Owen Cooper, a CIRES scientist working in NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Laboratory, is lead editor of the first edition of the WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin, and Irina Petropavlovskikh, a CIRES scientist in NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory, is a co-author. For the new report, NOAA provided long-term ozone monitoring data from atmospheric baseline observatories in Barrow, Alaska; Mauna Loa, Hawaii; and South Pole, Antarctica.

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