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Regional impacts of COVID-19 on carbon dioxide detected worldwide from space


Activity reductions in early 2020 due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic led to unprecedented decreases in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Despite their record size, the resulting atmospheric signals are smaller than and obscured by climate variability in atmospheric transport and biospheric fluxes, notably that related to the 2019–2020 Indian Ocean Dipole. Monitoring CO2 anomalies and distinguishing human and climatic causes thus remain a new frontier in Earth system science. We show that the impact of short-term regional changes in fossil fuel emissions on CO2 concentrations was observable from space. Starting in February and continuing through May, column CO2 over many of the world’s largest emitting regions was 0.14 to 0.62 parts per million less than expected in a pandemic-free scenario, consistent with reductions of 3 to 13% in annual global emissions. Current spaceborne technologies are therefore approaching levels of accuracy and precision needed to support climate mitigation strategies with future missions expected to meet those needs.

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