NASA Satellite Data Reveal Impact of Olympic Pollution Controls in Beijing, China

  • Released Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
  • Updated Tuesday, November 14th, 2023 at 12:25AM

Chinese government regulators had clearer skies and easier breathing in mind in the summer of 2008 when they temporarily shuttered some factories and banished many cars in a pre-Olympic sprint to clean up Beijing’s air. And that's what they got.

They were not necessarily planning for something else: an unprecedented experiment using satellites to measure the impact of air pollution controls. Taking advantage of the opportunity, NASA researchers have since analyzed data from NASA's Aura and Terra satellites that show how key pollutants responded to the Olympic restrictions.

The image on the left, an average of August 2005-07 nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels, shows high levels of pollution in Beijing and other areas of eastern China. In contrast, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) plunged nearly 50 percent in and around Beijing in August 2008 (right image) after officials instituted strict traffic restrictions in preparation for the Olympic Games.

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Papers used in this visualization

Witte, J. C., Schoeberl, M. R., Douglass, A. R., Gleason, J. F., Krotkov, N. A., Gille, J. C., ... & Livesey, N. (2009). Satellite observations of changes in air quality during the 2008 Beijing Olympics and Paralympics. Geophysical Research Letters, 36(17).

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