Coronavirus shutdowns have unintended climate benefits: cleaner air, clearer water

In Venice, the often murky canals recently began to get clearer, with fish visible in the water below. Italy’s efforts to limit the coronavirus meant an absence of boat traffic on the city’s famous waterways. And the changes happened quickly.

Countries that have been under stringent lockdowns to stop the spread of the coronavirus have experienced an unintended benefit. The outbreak has, at least in part, contributed to a noticeable drop in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in some countries.

Read more

Grace gravity mission captures Greenland ice loss

Greenland shed an extraordinary 600 billion tonnes of ice by the end of summer last year.

This melt-driven loss would have raised global sea levels by 2.2mm, say scientists who’ve just published an analysis of satellite gravity measurements taken over the Arctic.

Read more

Who benefits from coronavirus?

Hong Kong (CNN)Factories were shuttered and streets were cleared across China’s Hubei province as authorities ordered residents to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.It seems the lockdown had an unintended benefit — blue skies.The average number of “good quality air days” increased 21.5% in February, compared to the same period last year, according to China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment.And Hubei wasn’t alone.Satellite images released by NASAand the European Space Agency show a dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions — those released by vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities — in major Chinese cities between January and February. The visible cloud of toxic gas hanging over industrial powerhouses almost disappeared.”This is the first time I have seen such a dramatic drop-off over such a wide area for a specific event,” says Fei Liu, an air quality researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “I am not surprised because many cities nationwide have taken measures to minimize the spread of the virus.”

A similar pattern has emerged with carbon dioxide (CO2) — released by burning fossil fuels such as coal.From February 3 to March 1, CO2 emissions were down by at least 25% because of the measures to contain the coronavirus, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), an air pollution research organization.As the world’s biggest polluter, China contributes 30% of the world’s CO2 emissions annually, so the impact of this kind of drop is huge, even over a short period. CREA estimates it is equivalent to 200 million tons of carbon dioxide– more than half the entire annual emissions output of the UK.”As a measure that took place effectively overnight, this is more dramatic than anything else that I’ve seen in terms of the impact on emissions,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at CREA.But while lockdown measures designed to stem the spread of the virus have caused a momentary uptick in China’s pollution levels, experts warn that when the county starts to reboot its economy thetoxic chemicals couldup to higher levels than before the epidemic hit.

Coal consumption falls

A fall in oil and steel production, and a 70% reduction in domestic flights, contributed to the fall in emissions, according to the CREA. But the biggest driver was the sharp decline in China’s coal usage.China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal, using this resource for 59% of its energy in 2018. As well as running power plants and other heavy industries, coal is also the sole heat source for millions of homes in the vast rural areas of the country.The country’s major coal-fired power stations saw a 36% drop in consumption from February 3 to March 1 compared to the same period last year, according to CREA analysis of WIND data service statistics.”The largest consumers of coal — coal-fired power plants — have been affected a lot because electricity demand is down,” said Myllyvirta. “I think it’s clear that this effect will continue for the next weeks and months, because there has also been a major impact on the demand side of the economy.”In 2017, President Xi Jinping promised to make combating pollution one of China’s “three battles,” and the following year the Ministry of Ecology and Environment was created.The policies have resulted in a significant impact, with overall pollution levels 10% lower across Chinese cities between 2017 and 2018, according to a report released last year by Greenpeace and AirVisual.Climate activists say the crisis could provide a window to ramp up these promised reforms.”We would very much advocate for China to foster this opportunity to transform its economy, to break apart from the old,” said Li Shuo, a senior climate policy adviser for Greenpeace East Asia.

“Revenge pollution”

The concern, Li said, is that once the coronavirus threat has passed, China will be solely focused on restarting its economy, which was already hurting in the wake of the US-China trade war. That could come at the expense of the environment.”There might be a round of economic stimulus which would inject cheap credits to heavy industries in China, and as a result of that we might see increasing pollutants and also carbon emissions in the second half of this year,” Li added.This bounce-back effect — which can sometimes reverse any overall drop inemissions — is something Li calls “revenge pollution.” And in China it has precedent.In 2009, the Chinese government launched a giant $586 billion stimulus package in response to the global financial crisis — the majority of which went to large-scale infrastructure projects.But the resulting explosion in pollution in the following years — particularly in the “airpocalypse” winter of 2012-2013 — led to a public outcry which ushered in the Chinese government’s first national air pollution action plan in September 2013.President Xi has made clear that workers and factories need to ramp up activity as soon as possible if the country is to avoid a steeper economic downturn.Myllyvirta hopes China has learned lessons from the past.”It was really those previous episodes where it boiled over,” says Myllyvirta, who also warns of a public backlash if the skies turn gray again.”The reduction in air pollution has been very clear so if the pollution does come back, because of stimulus measures, because of heavy industry going into overdrive to make up for lost time, there could be a counter reaction.”

Hong Kong pollution falls

In neighboring Hong Kong, air quality has also improved since the city entered partial shutdown mode to combat the spread of the coronavirus.Key air pollutants dropped by nearly a third from January to February, according to data from Hong Kong University School of Public Health, which was analyzed by environmental organization Clean Air Network.Monitoring of stations in the busiest areas of Hong Kong, including Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok, revealed that the fine particle pollutant PM2.5 decreased by 32%, while the larger particle pollutant PM10 fell by up to 29%, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was reduced by up to 22%.Pollution in the city is mostly caused by motor vehicles, marine vessels, and power plants in Hong Kong and around the Pearl River Delta, the government says.The declines in harmful pollutants came in direct correlation with the Hong Kong government’s introduction of measures including working from home procedures, the closure of some public facilities, and a partial closure of the border with China. A drop in pollution in mainland China during this period also resulted in less regional smog from the industrial powerhouse cities in the southern province of Guangdong.”There are lots of people who work from home, and that has reduced the traffic and the traffic congestion,” said Patrick Fung, chairman of the Clean Air Network. Hong Kong’s measures were nowhere near as drastic as those in mainland China, but there was still a significant impact.Fung has been campaigning about the long-term health impact of the air pollution in Hong Kong, which he says causes on average 1,500 premature deaths per year in the city.”For the last decade, Hong Kong’s air pollution has been double the World Health Organization’s recommended safe level,” Fung says. “Especially at the roadside, where a lot of pedestrians and commuters are exposed to that kind of toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants.”Hong Kong’s government did introduce a raft of green policies in its recent budget, including a roadmap on cleaner public transport vehicles. Fung says the announcement was a good “first step,” but much more needs to be done.Now, Fung believes this brief period of cleaner air should send a message for people to push for longer-term changes. “If we want the children, the elderly, who could live healthily in Hong Kong, then we should think how to make business as usual change,” Fung says.

CNN’s Shanshan Wang contributed reporting from Beijing.

Read more

Coronavirus: A visual guide to the pandemic

Coronavirus has spread to more than 150 countries and claimed more than 7,000 lives.

There are now more cases around the world than there are inside China, where the virus originated.

Italy, so far, has the highest number of confirmed infections outside China.

This series of maps and charts will help you understand what is going on.


Read more

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public by WHO

Basic protective measures against the new coronavirus

Stay aware of the latest information on the COVID-19 outbreak, available on the WHO website and through your national and local public health authority. COVID-19 is still affecting mostly people in China with some outbreaks in other countries. Most people who become infected experience mild illness and recover, but it can be more severe for others. Take care of your health and protect others by doing the following.

Wash your hands frequently

Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

Maintain social distancing

Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Why? When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.

Practice respiratory hygiene

Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

Why? Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.

If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early

Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent spread of viruses and other infections.

Stay informed and follow advice given by your healthcare provider

Stay informed on the latest developments about COVID-19. Follow advice given by your healthcare provider, your national and local public health authority or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on whether COVID-19 is spreading in your area. They are best placed to advise on what people in your area should be doing to protect themselves.

Protection measures for persons who are in or have recently visited (past 14 days) areas where COVID-19 is spreading

  • Follow the guidance outlined above.
  • Stay at home if you begin to feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and slight runny nose, until you recover. Why? Avoiding contact with others and visits to medical facilities will allow these facilities to operate more effectively and help protect you and others from possible COVID-19 and other viruses.
  • If you develop fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical advice promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition. Call in advance and tell your provider of any recent travel or contact with travelers. Why? Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also help to prevent possible spread of COVID-19 and other viruses

See more at WHO web-site

Read more

Tropical carbon sinks are saturating at different times on different continents

A survey of tree establishment, growth and mortality shows that the rate at which Amazonian tropical forests take up carbon dioxide has slowed since the 1990s, whereas signs of a potential slowdown in Africa appeared only in 2010.


The total area of the world that is covered by tropical forest is declining because of deforestation, land degradation and fires — a trend that has increased over the past few years1. At the same time, human-induced climate change is altering the functioning of tropical forests2. During the 1990s and early 2000s, structurally intact tropical forests actively removed carbon from the atmosphere (in the form of carbon dioxide) through photosynthesis, and stored it as biomass. Such forests have been responsible for about 50% of the terrestrial carbon sink3. Hubau et al.4 report in Nature that this globally crucial tropical carbon sink is becoming saturated in both Amazonian and African rainforests, but with different patterns of change.Read the paper: Asynchronous carbon sink saturation in African and Amazonian tropical forests

Forests act as a net carbon sink when the amount of carbon gained through the establishment of new trees and tree growth is larger than the amount lost through tree mortality. In these circumstances, the quantity of carbon stored in the biomass increases over time. The interplay of carbon gains, losses and stocks determines the period of time for which carbon remains in the forest, which is known as the carbon residence time5.

Hubau and colleagues monitored tree establishment, growth and mortality in 244 undisturbed old-growth forest plots in Africa across 11 countries, between 1968 and 2015, and compared their data with similar measurements from 321 plots in Amazonia6. Such long-term monitoring is essential for identifying trends and drivers of the carbon sink in forest biomass, but is highly challenging and costly in terms of coordination, labour and funding — particularly in the tropics, where access to field sites is difficult and working conditions are harsh (Fig. 1). The authors find that the carbon sink in African tropical-forest biomass was stable for the 30 years up to 2015, in contrast to the sink in Amazonian tropical forests, for which the annual net amount of accumulated carbon started to decline around 1990 (Fig. 2). So what drives the slowdown of the tropical carbon sink, and why are there differences between Amazonian and African tropical forests?

Figure 2
Figure 2 | Estimates and projections of tropical carbon sinks. Hubau et al.4 have estimated the net amount of carbon that was absorbed from the atmosphere by tropical forests — the tropical carbon sinks — in Africa and Amazonia for the period from 1968 to 2015, using measurements of tree establishment, growth and mortality; only estimates from 1990 onwards are shown. The data show that the sink in Amazonia has declined since the 1990s, whereas the African sink was stable for the 30 years up to 2015. The authors also estimated the carbon sinks using statistical models, which they extrapolated to 2040. The extrapolations suggest that, by 2030, the carbon sink in Africa will be 14% lower than in 2010–15, whereas the Amazonian carbon sink will reach zero by 2035. Data shown are mean values; see Fig. 3 of ref. 4 for confidence intervals.

The authors report a long-term trend of increasing carbon gains in the forests on both continents throughout the period studied, which correlates with the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. They attribute the rising gains to CO2 fertilization — an increase in carbon uptake by plants that occurs as atmospheric CO2 levels rise. However, they find that increasing mean annual temperatures and drought since 2000 have reduced tree growth and thus offset the increase in carbon gains, with smaller reductions in Africa than in Amazonia.

Hubau et al. go on to show that high carbon gains persisted for longer in Africa than in Amazonia because the warming rate was slower, there were fewer droughts and air temperatures were generally lower (because African forests are located at higher elevations). And, in contrast to an earlier study6, the authors were able to clearly attribute the decline of carbon gains in Amazonia to increasing temperatures and repeated extreme drought events, on the basis of a statistical analysis of their data. The researchers find no signs of the CO2-fertilization effect levelling off on either continent.

Although the authors attribute the decline in carbon gains on both continents to climatic drivers, other limiting factors might be responsible — such as competition between trees for light and nutrients, and the general availability of nutrients on each continent. These factors were not considered in their statistical analysis, but might further constrain tree growth and weaken the sink as atmospheric CO2 concentrations continue to increase. Such limitations have been hinted at from experiments in which the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is enriched in a specific area of an ecosystem7, but no such experiment has been carried out in highly diverse, old-growth tropical forests such as those in Africa and Amazonia.Hyperactive soil microbes might weaken the terrestrial carbon sink

In addition to the trends in carbon gains, Hubau et al. find that carbon losses in Africa were stable from the 1990s until a decade ago, and then started to increase. By comparison, carbon losses in Amazonia had already started to increase in the 1990s. This continental difference seems to be because trees in Amazonia grow faster and have shorter carbon residence times than do those in African forests. Carbon dioxide fertilization might increase growth rate and carbon gains, but it also leads to quicker losses — CO2-fertilized trees grow fast and die young5,6, and therefore might not necessarily contribute to the carbon sink in the long term. The authors find that tree mortality associated with chronic long-term heat and drought leads to increased carbon losses, and that this effect is more pronounced in Amazonian than in African tropical forests as a result of accelerated warming rates in Amazonia since 2000. Data from the most intensively monitored African plots indicate that carbon losses in those forests began increasing from about 2010.

The authors extrapolate their statistical models up to the year 2040, and thereby suggest that the carbon sink will decline on both continents. They estimate that, by 2030, the carbon sink in Africa will be 14% lower than in 2010–15, whereas the Amazonian carbon sink will reach zero by 2035 (that is, there will be no net carbon uptake from the atmosphere). These extrapolations need to be interpreted carefully, however, because they are in striking contrast to projections made by global models — which predict a strong, continuing carbon sink due to CO2 fertilization in intact tropical forests8. Recently reported models9 of vegetation growth that consider nutrient cycling show that the Amazonian-forest carbon sink is strongly constrained by the availability of phosphorus in soils. Hubau and colleagues’ findings underline the need to understand other factors that affect tree mortality and forest dynamics, in addition to such nutrient feedbacks, so that these can be integrated into global models2.

So, what does a pan-tropical decline of the carbon sink in intact forests imply for the current climate crisis? Calculations of the maximum amount of anthropogenic carbon emissions that can be emitted to limit global warming to well below 2 °C — the goal of the 2015 Paris climate agreement — count on the continuation of a large tropical carbon sink10. Hubau and co-workers’ finding that tropical sinks are disappearing and could very soon turn into carbon sources suggests that, as well as strong protection of intact tropical forest, even faster reductions of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions than those set out in the agreement will be needed to prevent catastrophic climate changes.

Source: Nature

Read more

Be careful where you get your news about coronavirus

News about a deadly virus that appeared in Wuhan, China in December (now called 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV) is everywhere lately. And as the number of cases rises, it’s understandable if you’re wondering how likely it is that you or a loved one will become ill. And quite likely, you’re also wondering how to prevent this.

Read more

IAEA Reviews Belarus’ Nuclear Power Infrastructure Development

An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts on March, 4 concluded a 12-day mission to Belarus to review its infrastructure development for a nuclear power programme. The Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) was carried out at the invitation of the Government of Belarus.

Read more

World Wildlife Day 2020: Decoding the Secrets of Animal Migration with Isotopes and IAEA Data

Migratory animals, their large distance movements and life cycles have eluded scientists for centuries, particularly for hard-to-track and tiny species like the iconic monarch butterfly.  But thanks to the help of isotopic techniques, experts worldwide can better understand the flows and patterns of animal migration where traditional techniques have shown their limits.

Read more

European Green Deal set to transform economy in face of climate threat

The European Union is about to undergo the biggest overhaul of policy since its foundation, with nearly every major aspect of the economy set to be reassessed in light of the climate and ecological emergency.

Read more