The impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on urban photochemistry as inferred from TROPOMI

Srijana Lama*, Sander Houweling, Folkert Boersma, Ilse Aben, Hugo A.C. Denier van der Gon, Maarten C. Krol

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Movement restrictions were imposed in 2020 to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. These lock-down episodes provide a unique opportunity to study the sensitivity of urban photochemistry to temporary emission reductions and test air quality models. This study uses Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) nitrogen dioxide/carbon monoxide (NO2/CO) ratios in urban plumes in combination with an exponential fitting procedure to infer changes in the NOx lifetime (τNOx) during Covid-19 lock-downs in the cities of Denver, Chicago, New York, Riyadh, Wuhan and Sao Paulo compared with the year before. The strict lockdown policy in Wuhan led to a 65–80% reduction in NO2, compared to 30–50% in the other cities that were studied. In New York and Wuhan, CO concentration was reduced by 10–15%, whereas over Riyadh, Denver, Chicago, and Sao Paulo the CO background concentration increased by 2–5 ppb. τNOx has been derived for calm (0.0 < U (m/s) < 3.5) and windy (5.0 < U (m/s) < 8.5) days to study the influence of wind speed. We find reductions in τNOx during Covid-19 lockdowns in all six megacities during calm days. The largest change in τNOx during calm days is found for Sao-Paulo (31.8 ± 9.0%), whereas the smallest reduction is observed over Riyadh (22 ± 6.6%). During windy days, reductions in τNOx are observed during Covid-19 lockdowns in New York and Chicago. However, over Riyadh τNOx is almost similar for windy days during the Covid-19 lockdown and the year before. Ground-based measurements and the Chemistry Land-surface Atmosphere Soil Slab (CLASS) model have been used to validate the TROPOMI-derived results over Denver. CLASS simulates an enhancement of ozone (O3) by 4 ppb along with reductions in NO (38.7%), NO2 (25.7%) and CO (17.2%) during the Covid-19 lockdown in agreement with the ground-based measurements. In CLASS, decreased NOx emissions reduce the removal of OH in the NO2 + OH reaction, leading to higher OH concentrations and decreased τNOx. The reduction in τNOx inferred from TROPOMI (28 ± 9.0%) is in agreement with CLASS. These results indicate that TROPOMI derived NO2/CO ratios provide useful information about urban photochemistry and that changes in photochemical lifetimes can successfully be detected.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120042
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


  • Cities
  • CO
  • Covid-19
  • NO
  • NOx lifetime


Dive into the research topics of 'The impact of COVID-19 lockdowns on urban photochemistry as inferred from TROPOMI'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this