Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Asian air pollution and other global pollution stories

Two weeks ago, the Daily Mail reported China starts televising the sunrise on giant TV screens because Beijing is so clouded in smog.
The smog has become so thick in Beijing that the city's natural light-starved masses have begun flocking to huge digital commercial television screens across the city to observe virtual sunrises.

The futuristic screens installed in the Chinese capital usually advertize tourist destinations, but as the season's first wave of extremely dangerous smog hit - residents donned air masks and left their homes to watch the only place where the sun would hail over the horizon that morning.
The article then goes on to describe the terrible smog and the horrible health problems that result from it.  All of that is true, but the hook is baloney, as Quartz pointed out in Westerners are so convinced China is a dystopian hellscape they’ll share anything that confirms it.
When it comes to China stories, people will believe almost anything. Take, for instance, the reports about pollution being so severe in Beijing that residents now watch radiant sunrises broadcast on a huge screen in Tiananmen Square.

So, that never happened. As Tech in Asia flags, the sunrise is a clip from a tourism ad for Shandong province, in China’s northeast; it’s on screen for maybe 10 seconds or so per loop.

But that didn’t prevent a slew of prominent media outlets—including Time, CBS News and the Huffington Post—from running the story, which originated in the UK-based Daily Mail, each taking their own liberties with the truth. The “glorious sunrise was broadcast as part of a patriotic video loop,” explained Time.

How do stories like this happen? One reason is shabby journalism, something for which the Daily Mail is renowned.
That's why The Daily Mail is called The Daily Fail.  Still, it's a striking image, one that I will use when I next lecture on air pollution.  I already have a photo of air pollution in Beijing.  For balance, I'll also tell my students the full story as a cautionary tale about journalism that appeals to their prejudices.

That written, the air pollution from Asia is real and it's affecting the rest of the planet, as Texas A&M explains in Asian Air Pollution Affecting World’s Weather.
Extreme air pollution in Asia is affecting the world’s weather and climate patterns, according to a study by Texas A&M University and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers.

Yuan Wang, a former doctoral student at Texas A&M, along with Texas A&M atmospheric sciences professors Renyi Zhang and R. Saravanan, have had their findings published in the current issue of Nature Communications.
Satellite photo shows huge air pollution clouds at far left. Japan is on the right.

Using climate models and data collected about aerosols and meteorology over the past 30 years, the researchers found that air pollution over Asia – much of it coming from China – is impacting global air circulations.

“The models clearly show that pollution originating from Asia has an impact on the upper atmosphere and it appears to make such storms or cyclones even stronger,” Zhang explains.

“This pollution affects cloud formations, precipitation, storm intensity and other factors and eventually impacts climate.  Most likely, pollution from Asia can have important consequences on the weather pattern here over North America.”
There is much more at the link, including the following image.

Let that be a lesson in "Everything is connected to everything else," "There is no away," and "There is no such thing as a free lunch."

Follow over the jump for more stories that illustrate Commoner's Laws as pollution from one place ends up going somewhere else, as well as other stories about what people are doing about pollution elsewhere on the planet, all of them originally included in Overnight News Digest on Daily Kos.

University of Rhode Island: URI oceanographer examines pollutants in Antarctic seal milk
NARRAGANSETT, R.I. – January 8, 2014 – An oceanographer from the University of Rhode Island is analyzing the milk from Antarctic fur seals to determine the type and quantity of pollutants the seals are accumulating and passing on to their pups.

Rainer Lohmann, a professor at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, is collaborating with a researcher at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in California to learn about the health and ecology of fur seals that winter in different locations in the South Pacific.

“What we’re trying to learn is where the pollutants come from and how those pollutants vary by where the seals feed,” said Lohmann, who has conducted studies of marine pollutants around the world. “Fur seals that have given birth have lower pollutant levels than those that have not, because they pass their pollutants on to their pups in their milk.”
Virginia Tech: Research overturns assumption about mercury in the Arctic
BLACKSBURG, Va., Jan. 15, 2014 – For years, scientists have assumed that if mercury is high and increasing in fish in the North American and European Arctic, the same is true of fish elsewhere in the Arctic. But a team of scientists from the U.S., Russia, and Canada has discovered that assumption is wrong in much of the continental Arctic.

In addition to differences in mercury processes as a result of diverse atmospheric, geological, and biological conditions, “It turns out that the economic decline of the former Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991, appears to have been good for the Arctic environment in that part of the world,” said Leandro Castello, assistant professor of fish and wildlife conservation in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment and the first author of a paper about the finding.

The paper, “Low and Declining Mercury in Arctic Russian Rivers,” was published by Environmental Science & Technology, a journal of the American Chemical Society, on Dec. 20, 2013.
University of Massachusetts: Updating Air Pollution Measurement Methods with UMass Amherst Air Quality, Health Effects Research
January 6, 2014
AMHERST, Mass. – Launching a natural research experiment in Kathmandu, Nepal, this month using advanced monitoring methods to assess health risk from air pollution, environmental health scientist Rick Peltier at the University of Massachusetts Amherst hopes to demonstrate for the first time in a real-world setting that air pollution can and should be regulated based on toxicology variables rather than simply on the volume of particles in the air.

Recent technological advances in air quality measurement methods now make it possible and practical to monitor air pollution in a much more sophisticated way than before, Peltier says. Researchers now use X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to measure air pollution metal content, ion chromatography to identify other chemicals and other tactics to assess organic and elemental carbon levels.

Peltier says, “We’re interested in how air pollution directly affects health. The current regulatory method doesn’t take into account the relative toxicity of components, that is the specific chemical makeup of the air we breathe. There has been a void in the science in this field. But with this experiment, for the first time we’ll have biological measurements coupled with high-quality air pollution measurements in a cohort of traffic police exposed to extreme levels of pollution.”
I might re-use this story in an entry about 21st Century technology monitoring pollution and health.  After all, I'm an environmentalist; I recycle.

Finally, a story that isn't from a campus on the campaign trail on a topic that doesn't appear important, but is.

SINTEF (Norway) via PhysOrg: Searching for the perfect road salt
Jan 10, 2014
Each winter, Norway spends NOK 1.6 billion keeping its roads fit for use. Researchers have many reasons for wanting to get costs down.

The Norwegian Public Roads Administration maintains 55,000 kilometres of roads in Norway, of which about 9,000 kilometres are salted in winter. "This means that we 'salt Norway' from north to south about three and a half times", says SINTEF researcher Kine Nilssen, who specialises in winter road maintenance.

The use of salt on roads has given both motoring and environmental organisations cause to criticise the authorities. Salt causes cars to rust. It kills roadside vegetation and may contaminate groundwater. Even so, according to Nilssen, salting is essential to keep traffic flowing and maintain safety.
This is a concern here in Michigan, particularly on a day like today, when the roads are being salted but the weather may be too cold for the salt to work.  When the weather warms up, the salt is carried into the environment. 

As for the Norwegians, they appear to be looking for a solution that involves Commoner's fourth law, "Nature knows best."


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