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Alameda County Carbon Monoxide Emissions After the COVID-19 Lockdown

Updated: Mar 20, 2021

When COVID-19 suddenly descended on the United States a year ago, we saw massive, unprecedented change on multiple fronts in our society—work, school, shopping, traveling, and much more. Days after Alameda County went into lockdown, one of the most eerie changes observed was the empty city streets—not a pedestrian or automobile in sight. Even after restrictions lightened up and people began treading outdoors, there was visibly less activity on the road compared to before.

If—however unlikely—the COVID-19 pandemic had any semblance of a silver lining, it would likely be the sharp decrease in carbon emissions and slowing of global warming as a result of stay-at-home orders. Many have cited the pandemic as a blessing-in-disguise for the environment, but how beneficial was it really?

Drawing from the City of Fremont's expansive carbon monoxide testing data, we decided to investigate this question. Our reasoning behind targeting carbon monoxide (CO) concentration was simple. CO is produced from the incomplete combustion of gasoline—primarily from gas automobiles. Intuitively, it would make sense for us to see a sharp drop in CO levels past March of last year when the COVID-19 lockdowns were announced, greatly reducing automobile usage.

We analyzed 1074 individual data points spanning from Jan - Sept 2020 and across five different test sites: Oakland, Oakland West, Laney College, Berkeley Aquatic Park, and Pleasanton - Owens Ct. Each data point held the daily 8-hour maximum CO concentration (units in parts per million) for one of the five test sites.

To get a more comprehensive view of the data, we found the average maximum CO concentration for each month and test site. Across all five test sites in Alameda County, there was a noticeable drop in max CO concentration from February to March 2020. To name a few, the average daily CO concentration dropped from 0.5931 to 0.2000 ppm in Oakland; 0.7276 to 0.3000 ppm in Oakland West; 0.7274 to 0.4000 ppm in Berkeley Aquatic Park.

And thus, as we hypothesized previously, there is in fact a sharp dropoff in carbon monoxide emissions right mid-March. Governor of CA Gavin Newsom issued the first COVID-19 stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020—which aligns near perfectly with our data.

As for next steps, we want to apply statistical tests to the carbon monoxide data to determine if the sharp dropoff is statistically significant.

Check out the GitHub repo for our project:

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