COVID-19 lockdowns show reduced pollution on snow and ice in the Indus River Basin
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Melting snow and ice supply water for nearly 2 billion people [J. S. Mankin, D. Viviroli, D. Singh, A. Y. Hoekstra, N. S. Diffenbaugh, Environ. Res. Lett. 10, 114016 (2015)]. The Indus River in South Asia alone supplies water for over 300 million people [S. I. Khan, T. E. Adams, "Introduction of Indus River Basin: Water security and sustainability" in Indus River Basin, pp. 3-16 (2019)]. When light-absorbing particles (LAP) darken the snow/ice surfaces, melt is accelerated, affecting the timing
... of runoff. In the Indus, dust and black carbon degrade the snow/ice albedos [S. M. Skiles, M. Flanner, J. M. Cook, M. Dumont, T. H. Painter, Nat. Clim. Chang. 8, 964-971 (2018)]. During the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020, air quality visibly improved across cities worldwide, for example, Delhi, India, potentially reducing deposition of dark aerosols on snow and ice. Mean values from two remotely sensed approaches show 2020 as having one of the cleanest snow/ice surfaces on record in the past two decades. A 30% LAP reduction in the spring and summer of 2020 affected the timing of 6.6 km3 of melt water. It remains to be seen whether there will be significant reductions in pollution post-COVID-19, but these results offer a glimpse of the link between pollution and the timing of water supply for billions of people. By causing more solar radiation to be reflected, cleaner snow/ice could mitigate climate change effects by delaying melt onset and extending snow cover duration.