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A scientist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) has contributed to a digital artwork showing the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on air pollution.

Dr Massimo Vieno’s visualisation of the estimated changing levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) above Scotland over a 50-day period was incorporated in a video animation along with other moving images of falling NO2 measurements from a busy Edinburgh road and NASA satellite data on carbon dioxide emissions. The different visualisations, stacked one on top of another, aim to demonstrate the falls in emissions caused by the pandemic restrictions on a global, national and local scale.

The video animation, Everyone, which is accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers, is one of five art-science collaborations in an online exhibition organised by Inspace, the project space of the Design Informatics research institute in Edinburgh. The collaboration involved Dr Vieno, design curator Dr Stacey Hunter, tapestry weaver Ben Hymers, data visualisation designers Brendan McCarthy and Sam Healy of Ray Interactive, and Professor Roy Thompson of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences.

Dr Vieno, a senior air pollution modeller based at UKCEH in Edinburgh, regularly converts national emissions data into visualisations as part of the National Capability programme UK-SCAPE, which aims to improve our understanding of the consequences of human interventions on the environment.

The original moving animation he contributed to Everyone shows estimated NO2 emissions above Scotland on an hourly basis between 1 March and 23 May. It used yellow to portray nitrogen dioxide, on a red background, which increases and falls over time, and is swirled around by wind. A marked decline in emissions can be seen immediately after March 23 when the UK-wide lockdown was introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and these remain at a relatively low level, increasing at peak times of the day.

Dr Vieno’s three-minute animation was then adapted by artwork designers for the finished 93-second piece. He says: “This was a great collaboration between art and science that clearly shows the effects that the lockdown had on pollution in a striking and accessible way. It fits in perfectly with a core aim of UK-SCAPE to increase public engagement, raising awareness of the significant environmental challenges that society is facing.”

Watch both the finished piece and Dr Vieno’s animation on the Inspace website.


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He has more than 20 years’ experience in the fields in regional scale modelling of transport, deposition and interactions of various pollutants including ozone, ammonia, oxides of nitrogen and oxides of sulphur. He has a background in physics, meteorology and atmospheric chemistry.