News Release

COVID-19 lockdowns and snow melt in South Asia

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Relatively clean snow and ice in the Indus River Basin during the COVID-19 pandemic may have resulted in 6.6 km3 of reduced melt in 2020, compared with the 20-year average, a study finds. Melting snow and ice supply water to nearly 2 billion people worldwide. In particular, the Indus River in South Asia supplies water to more than 300 million individuals. Edward Bair and colleagues used two independent remote sensing techniques to examine how the recent stay-at-home orders may have affected snow and ice pollution and water supply in the Indus River Basin. The concentration of dust and soot on snow and ice decreased by 30% in 2020, compared with average values over the past 20 years. The results revealed that there was an increase in reflectance of the surface of snow and ice in 2020, compared with average values, resulting in the retention of 6.6 km3 of meltwater. The results suggest that the COVID-19 lockdowns improved air quality and reduced pollution on the surface of snow and ice, which absorbed less solar radiation, thereby decreasing and delaying the onset of melt. According to the authors, the study demonstrates how changes in human behavior can affect water supply for billions of people.


Article #21-01174: "COVID-19 lockdowns show reduced pollution on snow and ice in the Indus River Basin," by Edward Bair, Timbo Stillinger, Karl Rittger, and McKenzie Skiles.

MEDIA CONTACT: Edward Bair, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA; tel: 703-217-7214; email: <>

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