Blog series #8: How does a pandemic lockdown affect light pollution?

Dr. Andreas Jechow is a postdoc at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB). With a background in optical physics he is investigating the environmental impacts of artificial light at night in a young and highly interdisciplinary research field.

Name / Institute:

  • Andreas Jechow
  • IGB – Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin
  • Leibniz Section E

Research topic:

  • How artificial light affects ecosystems.

Main featured instrument or technique:

  • light at night measurements
  • ground-based cameras
  • satellite imagery

“I looked into how the COVID lockdown affected light pollution, which is too much artificial light at night disturbing the natural environment.“

What was your main research topic in the last 1-2 years before spring 2020?

I had two main topics. Most relevant for this interview, I worked on how a special form of light pollution “skyglow” impacts ecosystems. This research brought me to the darkest places in Germany, Europe and Asia and I did field work in remote areas like Northern Scandinavia or Kazakhstan. Furthermore, I worked on observing water quality with remote sensing techniques from space, airplanes, and buoys.

What are the main findings of your work on COVID; and did the results surprise you or did they basically confirm what you had thought before you started this study?

We were expecting that less artificial light was emitted during the COVID lockdown because of reduced human activities. However, we observed that the light detected by satellites was the same or more than pre-COVID lockdown. The lights actually stayed on after the curfews and left lit ghost towns – not very sustainable. Surprisingly, we found that skyglow, which is artificial light scattered within the atmosphere, was reduced – contradictory to the other observations. We conclude that reduced air pollution, particularly because of less air traffic is the cause for this reduction. 

How has COVID affected your life?

I have 2 small kids, and my wife is a “system-relevant” medical doctor. Therefore, I am the stay-home parent and must take care for the kids including homeschooling. Admittedly, I have spent much more time with my kids than pre-COVID, which is very good. Work-wise things were disastrous in the beginning but have improved over the months, and I could do field trips (not abroad and only if get the childcare organized) and can work family friendly from home (although much less efficient than before of course).

You have managed to hook your research into the incalculable emerging pandemic. What is your advice for postdocs that want to embrace such a challenging research topic?

I had this one night off from family duties in March 2020 and used the opportunity to do field work. If you see such a chance, don’t hesitate – just do it, but don’t wear yourself off too much of course.

What would be the one take-home message of your research?

Reduce unnecessary emission of artificial light as much as possible for the environment and sustainability. Also, air pollution should move more on the agenda of researchers and conservationists that deal with light pollution.

How does your perfect day off work look like?

Normally this would be the day with the family out in nature with the campervan starting with a dip in a lake and a coffee, going on with a little hike and finishing with a beer for sunset. Now, 15 months into the pandemic, I am more eager for spending that day at a dusty rock festival with loud music and all that stuff.

Has COVID changed your view on society and science?

Firstly, we often take system-relevant jobs for granted and should be more grateful to all those that are essential for the functioning of our society. Secondly, science communication and scientific integrity is particularly important when scientific results become pivotal for government decisions with huge implications and when preprints become more popular also in the media.  

We would like to express our sincere thanks to Dr. Andreas Jechow for supporting our new blog interview format with active participation.

Find out more about Dr. Andreas Jechow and his work:

Photo credits: Andreas with camera – Andreas Hänel; Andreas on the lake – Volker Crone

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