How did COVID-19 ‘Lockdown’ Policy Impact Ambient Air Quality, Atmospheric Composition and Reactivity in the UK?

Kevin Wyche, Mark Nicholls, Harley Parfitt, Paul Beckett, Doug Gregg, Kirsty Smallbone, Peter Lyons, Paul Monks

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


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
Publication statusPublished - 3 Feb 2022
EventImproving Air Quality across the UK - On-line, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Feb 2022 → …


ConferenceImproving Air Quality across the UK
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period3/02/22 → …
Internet address


  • air quality
  • COVID-19
  • atmospheric science


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