Changes in ambient air quality and atmospheric composition and reactivity in the South East of the UK as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown

Kevin Wyche, Mark Nichols, Harley Parfiff, Paul Beckett, Doug Gregg, Kirsty Smallbone, Paul Monks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The COVID-19 pandemic forced governments around the world to impose restrictions on daily life to prevent the spread of the virus. This resulted in unprecedented reductions in anthropogenic activity, and reduced emissions of certain air pollutants, namely oxides of nitrogen. The UK ‘lockdown’ was enforced on 23/03/2020, which led to restrictions on movement, social interaction, and ‘non-essential’ businesses and services. This study employed an ensemble of measurement and modelling techniques to investigate changes in air quality, atmospheric composition and boundary layer reactivity in the South East of the UK post-lockdown. The techniques employed included in-situ gas- and particle-phase monitoring within central and local authority air quality monitoring networks, remote sensing by long path Differential Optical Absorption Spectroscopy and Sentinel-5P’s TROPOMI, and detailed 0-D chemical box modelling. Findings showed that de-trended NO2 concentrations decreased by an average of 14-38% when compared to the mean of the same period over the preceding 5-years. We found that de-trended particulate matter concentrations had been influenced by interregional pollution episodes, and de-trended ozone concentrations had increased across most sites, by up to 15%, such that total Ox levels were roughly preserved. 0-D chemical box model simulations showed the observed increases in ozone concentrations during lockdown under the hydrocarbon-limited ozone production regime, where total NOx decreased proportionally greater than total non-methane hydrocarbons, which led to an increase in total hydroxyl, peroxy and organic peroxy radicals. These findings suggest a more complex scenario in terms of changes in air quality owing to the COVID-19 lockdown than originally reported and provide a window into the future to illustrate potential outcomes of policy interventions seeking large-scale NOx emissions reductions without due consideration of other reactive trace species.
Original languageEnglish
Article number142526
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue numberPart 1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

© 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (


  • Anthropause
  • coronavirus
  • lockdown
  • nitrogen dioxide
  • ozone
  • oxidative capacity
  • Lockdown
  • Coronavirus
  • Oxidative capacity
  • Ozone
  • Nitrogen dioxide


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