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 Parfitt, Paul Beckett, Doug Gregg, Kirsty Smallbone, Paul Monks

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The COVID-19 pandemic forced governments around the world to impose restrictions on daily life to prevent 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 brought into force on 23/03/2020; this led to restrictions on movement and social interaction, and the temporary closure of ‘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, comparable to other countries, de-trended NO2 concentrations at roadside, urban, suburban and rural background sites had 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 show 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, led under clear sky conditions, 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
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2021
EventAtmospheric Science Conference: Net Zero - On-line, On-line, United Kingdom
Duration: 22 Jun 202122 Jun 2021


ConferenceAtmospheric Science Conference
Abbreviated titleASC2021
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Anthropause
  • Coronavirus
  • Air quality
  • air pollution
  • atmospheric science


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