Observing COVID-19 Impacts

Satellite image of ozone map

Satellite data of NO2 from the Aura Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) over the Southeast U.S. as an average of March 15 through April 15,. The image on the left shows the mean of the period from 2015 through 2019, while the image on the right shows the mean for 2020. View the interactive image. Image Credit: NASA

Observing COVID-19 Impacts

Throughout 2020, much of the world has experienced a new normal: one with fewer cars on the road and more time spent at home. Despite these challenges, NASA’s Earth-observing fleet has continued to operate: collecting key observations on how the planet is responding to changes in our behavior, and carefully examining whether environmental factors might influence the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

During this time, NASA is leveraging existing datasets, adapting ongoing NASA projects, and funding new research to better understand the pandemic’s effect on our global environment. For example, measurements of air quality from the joint NASA-Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) Ozone Monitoring Instrument (OMI) aboard the Aura satellite have captured the data behind the rapidly falling nitrogen dioxide air pollutant levels during coronavirus-related shutdowns (pictured above), and ongoing observations from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) Day/Night Band on the joint NASA-NOAA Suomi NPP mission are using nighttime lights to track changes in human activity throughout this unprecedented time. 

“Much like our satellites, our work continues remotely,” explains Deputy Director for NASA’s Earth Science Division Sandra Cauffman. “NASA Earth scientists continue to collect and analyze satellite and ground-based data on a global scale, and our programs are helping to characterize and understand the global environmental signals. We do this by analyzing existing, long-term datasets and funding new, cutting-edge research.” 

For more information on NASA’s efforts related to the novel coronavirus, please visit https://nasa.gov/coronavirus


New COVID-Related Research

At the start of the pandemic, NASA’s Earth Science Division solicited proposals for research into the effect of COVID-19-related shutdowns on Earth systems. The new research projects, awarded through NASA’s Rapid Response and Novel research in the Earth Sciences (RRNES) program element, explore how changes in our behavior to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus are providing a natural experiment to better understand our air, land, and water. 

For more information on all our new COVID-related research, please visit https://science.nasa.gov/earth-science/rrnes-awards


COVID-19 and Earth Systems

Changes in our behavior during the pandemic have affected everything from the air we breathe to the food we eat. NASA, in collaboration with international and domestic partners, has been working to understand to what degree these changes are due to our own behavior, or whether they are the result of natural variation. 

Two new interactive dashboards powered by real remote sensing satellite data from NASA and our partners are helping to track changes in the environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screenshot of website application for an earth observation dashboard

The Earth Observation Dashboard is a collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to leverage the power of our combined datasets to track the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on society and the environment.

Screenshot of website application for COVID data

The NASA COVID-19 Dashboard features data collected and analyzed by NASA on seven key indicators, including environmental indicators like air quality, water quality, and agriculture, as well as various economic indicators like nighttime lights and shipping. 

Explore the ways in which coronavirus-related restrictions are affecting our air, water, climate, and landscapes in the interactive guided narratives below.

Air Quality During COVID-19 

When governments began implementing lockdowns at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists wondered how the atmosphere would respond to the sudden change in human activity. Explore how locations around the world experienced substantial reductions in transportation-related fossil fuel emissions and began to see cleaner air.

Climate Change During COVID-19

While satellites have captured sharp declines in nitrogen dioxide emissions during pandemic-related shutdowns, associated reductions in carbon dioxide have not been as readily apparent from space. Explore how NASA scientists pioneered new techniques to detect these changes and whether they could potentially impact future climate projections. 

Visit: Carbon Dioxide  

Water Quality During COVID-19

Delays in agricultural production, restrictions on tourism, and changes in our daily routines during the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially impact regional water quality all over the world. Learn more about how NASA is observing these changes at 

Visit: Water Quality 

Changing Landscapes During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we interact with our environment has changed. As people everywhere increasingly stay home, satellites are capturing these changes in our behavior and their subsequent effects on the built and natural world. 


Accessing Earth Data Related to COVID-19 

Satellite data of earth's environment and atmosphere

Although satellites cannot detect the spread of the disease from space, they can measure changes in Earth’s environment due to changes in human behavior. NASA and other federal agencies are using satellite and airborne data to assess regional and global environmental, economic, and societal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In addition, NASA’s long-term, continuous observations provide more spatially and temporally complete data records for indicators, such as precipitation, temperature, and humidity, which might provide important baseline information when determining the potential seasonality of the novel coronavirus.

NASA’s Earth Science Data Systems Program provides links to datasets that can be used to research changing environmental impacts from modified human behavior patterns, the possibility of seasonal trends in virus transmission, and water availability. For more information, please visit https://earthdata.nasa.gov/learn/pathfinders/covid-19.


NASA SpaceApps COVID-19 Challenge 

Logo for NASA Space Apps COVID-19 Challenge

The NASA Space Apps COVID-19 Challenge united coders, entrepreneurs, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, artists, and technologists for a weekend of virtual problem-solving in May 2020. Four other space agencies — the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) — plus more than 400 volunteer judges, experts and local leads — joined forces to make the event a success.