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UB engineer awarded NASA grant to study COVID-19 air pollution impact

The Los Angeles skyline barely visible through thick smog. .

The Los Angeles skyline is barely visible through thick smog. Southern California, along with the Jianghan Plain (which includes Wuhan) in China and the Po Valley in Italy, will be the focus of NASA-funded research by UB engineer Kang Sun to study air pollution as it relates to COVID-19.

By CORY NEALON and ELLEN GRAY

Published May 21, 2020

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“Using a new data-driven framework that combines satellite and meteorological data, we will take NASA satellite assets one step further to quantify the reduction in emissions and its impact on air quality chemistry. ”
Kang Sun, assistant professor
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

UB atmospheric scientist Kang Sun has been awarded a $100,000 NASA grant to study air pollution in three regions of the world as it relates to COVID-19.

The focus of the effort will be southern California, Jianghan Plain (which includes Wuhan) in China and Po Valley in Italy ─ all areas where once-congested streets were made easily navigable by travel restrictions associated with the novel coronavirus.

Although satellites have observed a global decrease in some types of air pollution, including nitrogen dioxide, it remains to be seen how long the reduction in harmful emissions will last and what effects these changes will have on the chemistry of the atmosphere in the future.

An assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, Sun is developing a process that will give scientists and stakeholders a way to efficiently monitor both.

"Using a new data-driven framework that combines satellite and meteorological data, we will take NASA satellite assets one step further to quantify the reduction in emissions and its impact on air quality chemistry," says Sun, who also has an appointment in the UB RENEW Institute.

For now, he plans to focus his research on three regions, each at different phases of the pandemic and that have adhered to different regulations and policies in an effort to control it. He adds that the framework he is developing can be quickly applied to other regions.

NASA’s Earth Science Division, which is supporting the science community as it investigates the many changes this unique situation has brought to light, awarded the grant. Through the agency’s Rapid Response and Novel Research in Earth Science (RRNES) initiative, NASA is funding selected, rapid-turnaround projects that make innovative use of satellite data and other NASA resources to address the different environmental, economic and societal impacts of the pandemic.