Air quality change in Seoul, South Korea under covid-19 social distancing: Focusing on pm2.5

Beom Soon Han, Kyeongjoo Park, Kyung Hwan Kwak, Seung Bu Park, Han Gyul Jin, Sungju Moon, Jong Won Kim, Jong Jin Baik

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Seoul, the most populous city in South Korea, has been practicing social distancing to slow down the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and other air pollutants measured in Seoul over the two 30 day periods before and after the start of social distancing are analyzed to assess the change in air quality during the period of social distancing. The 30 day mean PM2.5 concentration decreased by 10.4% in 2020, which is contrasted with an average increase of 23.7% over the corresponding periods in the previous 5 years. The PM2.5 concentration decrease was city-wide and more prominent during daytime than at nighttime. The concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) decreased by 16.9% and 16.4%, respectively. These results show that social distancing, a weaker forcing toward reduced human activity than a strict lockdown, can help lower pollutant emissions. At the same time, synoptic conditions and the decrease in aerosol optical depth over the regions to the west of Seoul support that the change in Seoul’s air quality during the COVID-19 social distancing can be interpreted as having been affected by reductions in the long-range transport of air pollutants as well as local emission reductions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6208
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Air quality monitoring station
  • COVID-19
  • PM
  • Seoul
  • Social distancing
  • Urban air quality


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