Anomalies of O3, CO, C2H2, H2CO, and C2H6 detected with multiple ground-based Fourier-transform infrared spectrometers and assessed with model simulation in 2020: COVID-19 lockdowns versus natural variability

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Anomalies of tropospheric columns of ozone (O3), carbon monoxide (CO), acetylene (C2H2), formaldehyde (H2CO), and ethane (C2H6) are quantified during the 2020 stringent COVID-19 world-wide lockdown using multiple ground-based Fourier-transform infrared spectrometers covering urban and remote conditions. We applied an exponential smoothing forecasting approach to the data sets to estimate business-as-usual values for 2020, which are then contrasted with actual observations. The Community Atmosphere Model with chemistry (CAM-chem) is used to simulate the same gases using lockdown-adjusted and business-as-usual emissions. The role of meteorology, or natural variability, is assessed with additional CAM-chem simulations. The tropospheric column of O3 declined between March and May 2020 for most sites with a mean decrease of 9.2% ± 4.7%. Simulations reproduce these anomalies, especially under background conditions where natural variability explains up to 80% of the decline for sites in the Northern Hemisphere. While urban sites show a reduction between 1% and 12% in tropospheric CO, the remote sites do not show a significant change. Overall, CAM-chem simulations capture the magnitude of the anomalies and in many cases natural variability and lockdowns have opposite effects. We further used the long-term record of the Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) satellite instrument to capture global anomalies of CO. Reductions of CO vary highly across regions but North America and Europe registered lower values in March 2020.The absence of CO reduction in April and May, concomitant with reductions of anthropogenic emissions, is explained by a negative anomaly in the hydroxyl radical (OH) found with CAM-chem.The implications of these findings are discussed for methane (CH4), which shows a positive lifetime anomaly during the COVID-19 lockdown period. The fossil fuel combustion by-product tracer C2H2 shows a mean drop of 13.6% ± 8.3% in urban Northern Hemisphere sites due to the reduction in emissions and in some sites exacerbated by natural variability. For some sites with anthropogenic influence there is a decrease in C2H6.The simulations capture the anomalies but the main cause may be related to natural variability. H2CO declined during the stringent 2020 lockdown in all urban sites explained by reductions in emissions of precursors.

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National Science Foundation


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