The coronavirus-related lockdowns affected human beings and nature in many ways. Unusual animal sightings occurred in many cities, while human beings dramatically changed their daily lives and commuting patterns. But did these changes to everyday life affect the air we breathe?

Marc Rosenfield, an ecosystem ecologist and PhD candidate at George Washington University, studied the exchange of carbon dioxide between the land and the atmosphere during the pandemic to answer the question. With his collaboration with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, Marc Rosenfield, Leona Neftaliem and their collaborators built and deployed 33 carbon dioxide sensors around the Washington DC metropolitan area, including the Enid A. Haupt Garden and the Anacostia Community Museum. The sensors have been collecting carbon dioxide, temperature, pressure, and humidity readings every 5 minutes for over a year.

Now, Rosenfield is analyzing the data to see how photosynthesis, urban planning, and traffic changes have affected carbon dioxide cycling in and out of the atmosphere. The pandemic offered a rare opportunity for Rosenfield to observe how the environment reacts to drops in human activity.