NASA's Aura satellite images show the levels of nitrogen oxide levels reduced to unprecedented levels since the pandemic started, due to decreased transportation and factory emissions. (Image credit: NASA)
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe and negatively impacting our lives, it's having a different kind of impact on the environment. It's estimated that 1.7-billion people are under stay at home orders in their respective countries. As such, reduced transportation (both ground and air) and manufacturing have led to the reduction of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere. In other words, pollution is rapidly decreasing and changing the environment. Changes in human behavior due to the pandemic is giving scientists a rare insight into how humans interact and influence the environment.
For decades scientists have sounded the alarm on rising temperatures and the catastrophic results it will have on the globe, including extreme droughts and weather patterns, which has done little to change some countries' climate policies. Now that large populations are under lockdown, scientists have been able to map the positive effects on the earth and climate change. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) pollution-monitoring satellites recently detected significant reductions in pollution levels over China since the economic slowdown due to the pandemic.
By the end of 2019, China restricted travel to and from Wuhan, along with shuttering businesses within the city, to reduce the spread of the virus. Other cities soon followed suit in China and other cities around the world by January of this year. Data collected by ESA's Sentinal-5 satellite and NASA's Aura show the stark differences in nitrogen oxide levels emitted by vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities during quarantine (as seen in the photo above). A drop in NO2 levels was also detected during the 2008 recession, and the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but the drop-off was gradual and returned to high levels shortly afterward.
China isn't the only country to see reduced levels of pollution, as India and Italy see reduced CO2 levels as well, and one news article has pointed out that Venice's once murky canals have become clearer and populations of fish can be seen swimming through its corridors. US cities, such as San Francisco, New York, and Seattle, are noting reduced levels of carbon dioxide as well due to quarantine measures.
Zoo animals can also contract COVID-19 and are missing the human attention they have grown accustomed to having. (Image credit: Pixabay)
Wildlife has also been impacted by the pandemic, with experts calling for a ban on animal trade and consumption. It's thought that COVID-19 originated at a Wuhan market that sells exotic animals, which caught the attention of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who urged governments to ban live markets and put a stop to illegal trafficking and poaching. Soon after, China introduced a ban on all farming and the consumption of live animals, to slow the pandemic and mitigate future outbreaks, it's unknown if those measures will be signed into law. What is known, is that China is looking to export wild animals (including edible snakes and turtles), and issuing tax incentives to have them shipped, according to an article from the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, the demand for those animals remains high among Asian countries, so we will likely not see any laws enacted to prevent international trafficking.
It's also thought the virus jumped from animals to humans who consumed those animals, and now we're giving it back to them, as Reuters has reported a tiger at New York's Bronx Zoo has tested positive for the coronavirus. It's the first known case of a human infecting an animal with the virus after coming in contact with an asymptomatic zoo employee. Several other tigers and lions are exhibiting the same symptoms; however, the zoo has only tested the original tiger who was the sickest and did not want to subject the other cats to anesthesia.
While it appears zoo animals can become infected, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that there is no evidence (as of yet) that household pets can transmit COVID-19 to humans, or could spread the virus in the US. To that end, zoos across the globe have shuttered their doors, and employees have noticed that the more intelligent animals, gorillas, meerkats, and otters, have continued to show up for their planned meet-and-greet events even though there are no visitors. It's as if they miss the attention they receive during those events.
Peacocks take to the streets of Ronda, Spain, as a result of self-isolating and lack of tourists. (Image credit: Getty Images via CNBC)
Social distancing has also become an influence zoo animals are reacting too, as some are fed at different times via different employees, giving them a sense of slight confusion. Wildlife has also taken to the streets, local back yards, and other urban areas due to self-isolating and lack of tourism. Peacocks have taken to the streets of Ronda, Spain, while wild boar have been spotted in Barcelona. Mountain goats are causing havoc in Llandudno, Wales, and rival gangs of monkeys were witnessed brawling over food in Lopburi, Thailand.
When all is said and done, and the pandemic has subsided, it will be interesting to see how these animals will react. In Colorado, it's not uncommon to see bears, mountain lions, and moose walking through towns such as Boulder or even packed residential areas such as Lakewood. Typically, they are tranquilized and transported back to the mountains and foothills; it's hard to imagine doing the same to rival gangs of monkeys.
It will also be interesting to see what the end effects on the environment will look like when the pandemic recedes. As the world reacts and adapts to this changing life, the outcome of this environmental impact is clear to see, and can't be contested as just the natural heating and cooling of earth's climate. If anything, reducing carbon emissions from vehicles, factories, and air travel can have a lasting beneficial impact on our society.
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