Feb 22, 2019

Nitrogen dioxide pollution never looked so beautiful

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Descartes Labs via ESA; Map: Harry Stevens/Axios

This map shows a 2-month average of the abundance of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the air, as sensed from space by the new Sentinel-5P satellite from the European Space Agency.

Why it matters: The image, generated by scientists and data specialists at the space data analysis firm Descartes Labs, shows us the human footprint on the planet. "I find it fascinating that this image would be mostly blank if people weren't here burning stuff," says Tim Wallace, creative lead at Descartes Labs.

Nitrogen dioxide is part of a group of gases referred to as nitrogen oxides, or NOx. NOx is a key contributor to smog and a major health hazard, so monitoring it will help track its major sources.

"Whenever we're burning for either power production or transportation, anything that we’re burning is going to emit NOx," Laura Mazzaro, an atmospheric scientist and environmental engineer at Descartes Labs, tells Axios.

The big picture: NOx has a short atmospheric lifetime, on the scale of hours, so satellite sensors can give a near-real-time picture of combustion worldwide, from the cars leading to Los Angeles smog to biomass burning in the vast forests of Indonesia and South America.

"It affects people's quality of life directly," Mazzaro says.

A lot of point sources visible in the image are to be expected, such as major cities and oil production hubs. However, the hazy bands of NOx over the Amazon and sub-Saharan Africa may be clues to different sources of the compound, and interestingly, the satellite is even able to show typically used shipping routes.

Why you'll hear about this again: Mazzaro says the Sentinel satellite's capabilities could be used for monitoring compliance with environmental agreements, including air pollution reduction commitments on NOx, acid rain and any future regulations on methane pollution, given that it is a potent greenhouse gas that is on the increase.

Go deeper: What We Burn Creates an Eerily Navigable Map of Earth (Medium)

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Gilead expands access to experimental coronavirus drug in emergency cases

Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Gilead Sciences CEO Daniel O’Day said in an open letter Saturday the company is expanding access to its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir to include severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The big pig picture: President Trump has called the antiviral drug "promising," but the results of six clinical trials on this investigational medicine are still being conducted, so its effectiveness in COVID-19 the treatment has yet to be proved. The World Health Organization is involved in the tests.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 664,695 — Total deaths: 30,847 — Total recoveries: 140,156.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 124,464 — Total deaths: 2,191 — Total recoveries: 1,095.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump announces new travel advisories for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, but rules out quarantine enforcement. Per the CDC, residents of those states must now "refrain from non-essential domestic travel for 14 days," with the exception of critical infrastructure industry workers.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters who backed Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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Coronavirus updates: Global death toll tops 30,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 30,000 people around the world — with Italy reporting over 10,000 deaths, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: The number of deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. surpassed 2,000 on Saturday. The United States leads the world in confirmed coronavirus infections — more than 124,000 by late Saturday. The number of those recovered from the virus in the U.S. passed the 1,000-mark on Saturday evening.

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