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The new NASA study relied on the high-tech imaging instrument known as MODIS, contained aboard NASA's Terra satellite.  (Source: NASA)

A chart detailing the airflow over the Pacific. Note the airflow towards the polar region that crosses from Asia, near Japan and China up towards British Columbia and down the west coast of the U.S.  (Source: NASA)
Is poor air quality in America the fault of China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan?

There's been much conjecture that China's vast industrialization produces heavy pollution, not only to East Asia, but to North America as well.  Air currents, which flow between Asia and North America, are thought to carry industrial pollution overseas to the U.S. and Canada.  Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are also extremely industrialized and highly populated and also contribute significant airborne emissions of toxic sulfur and nitrogen compounds into the air.

Theories about pollution drift from East Asia to North America remained unexamined until now.  As part of NASA's ongoing efforts to track pollution and environment changes via satellite, NASA has launched a major initiative to track and carefully measure the flow of air pollution between East Asia and North America.  The study looks to detect and quantitatively analyze pollution from three primary sources -- forest fires, urban exhaust, and industrial pollution.

China's rapid expansion cleared vast tracks of land.  Much of this land is cleared by slash and burn methods, which release airborne pollution.  Accidental forest fires also occur frequently.  Further, China's automobile population has skyrocket.  Many of the automobiles do not have up to date exhaust controls as American automobiles do.  This leads to the release of carbon monoxide and other pollutants.  China's network of factories and coal plants pump literally tons of toxins into the atmosphere, helping to make China the world leader in greenhouse gas production

Despite China's efforts to adopt environmentally friendly technology, its reduction efforts are currently outpaced greatly by its growth.

One of the NASA researchers on the study, Hongbin Yu, an associate research scientist of the University of Maryland Baltimore County working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., grew up in China and witnessed first hand the damage done on the environment and the local population's health by the uncontrolled expansion.  Yu and his team will be working for the first time to analyze aerosol flow in the fast moving airstream that crosses the Pacific, traveling from East Asia to North America. 

Aerosols are a standard type of air pollution, consisting of a suspension of droplets.  These droplets can contain many toxic chemicals.  High aerosol exposure in industrial settings can lead to many health problems, the impact of lesser degrees of exposure has not been entirely examined.

The study's first results come courtesy of measurements from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), an instrument on NASA's Terra satellite.  The results, which will be published in the American Geophysical Union’s Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, confirm that between 2002 and 2005 East Asia exported nearly 18 teragrams of pollution into the air stream over the Pacific, with 4.5 teragrams reaching North America.  A teragram is a unit used to measure atmospheric mass of aerosol pollution.  One teragram equals 2.2 billion pounds, so the study shows that nearly 10 billion pounds of Asian aerosol pollution reached American shores in a 3 year span.

Yu puts this in perspective, stating, "We used the latest satellite capabilities to distinguish industrial pollution and smoke from dust transported to the western regions of North America from East Asia. Looking at four years of data from 2002 to 2005 we estimated the amount of pollution arriving in North America to be equivalent to about 15 percent of local emissions of the U.S. and Canada.  This is a significant percentage at a time when the U.S. is trying to decrease pollution emissions to boost overall air quality. This means that any reduction in our emissions may be offset by the pollution aerosols coming from East Asia and other regions."

According to Yu, though East Asia is not solely at fault as pollution travels with the airstream from North America to other continents as well.  He states that the study only seeks to analyze the Asian pollution input into North America's air.  He explains, "Our study focused on East Asian pollution transport, but pollution also flows from Europe, North America, the broader Asian region and elsewhere, across bodies of water and land, to neighboring areas and beyond.  So we should not simply blame East Asia for this amount of pollution flowing into North America."

Mian Chin, also a co-author of this study and an atmospheric scientist at NASA Goddard agrees with Yu's cautions and states that he believes that much of North America's pollution may come from Europe as well.  NASA may carry out additional studies to examine this possibility.

Lorraine Remer, a physical scientist and member of the MODIS science team at NASA Goddard points out that the study is a cutting edge experience that relies on the most modern sensor technology.  MODIS can distinguish between many types of atmospheric particles and can accurately track them as they rise out of the troposphere, where we live and breath, into the upper atmosphere, where they are transported overseas.  Says Remer, "Satellite instruments give us the ability to capture more accurate measurements, on a nearly daily basis across a broader geographic region and across a longer time frame so that the overall result is a better estimate than any other measurement method we’ve had in the past."

The greatest pollution influx occurred in 2003, due a set of large forest fires in East Asia and Russia.  The researchers determined that it takes approximately a week for pollutants to travel from Asia to North America.

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and backwords?
By nosfe on 3/19/2008 11:32:09 AM , Rating: -1
right, and how much pollution went from America to Asia? they're not counting that, do they?

RE: and backwords?
By rudy on 3/19/2008 11:33:40 AM , Rating: 2
It would goto Europe.......

RE: and backwords?
By SilentSin on 3/19/2008 11:49:20 AM , Rating: 2
Right, I'd imagine almost all of our pollution would end up in western europe, as if they didn't have enough of their own to deal with. The winds blow from west to east across the US and then once they hit the eastern coastline up to the UK/Spain area.

Still an interesting point, though. I'd like to see the data on how much *we* effect the rest of the globe, as opposed to what the world does to us.

RE: and backwords?
By MicahK on 3/19/2008 12:00:06 PM , Rating: 4
Lol, yah, Canada gets a lot of pollution that comes up from the states...

RE: and backwords?
By rum on 3/19/2008 12:39:48 PM , Rating: 4
Not nice to talk about liberals that way :) LOL

RE: and backwords?
By daftrok on 3/19/2008 11:55:10 AM , Rating: 2
So what if 15% of the smog is coming from Asia? That means 85% of it is from here. But one accepted fact is that smog is in the air and its coming from our energy inefficiency. So the logical thing to do to bring it down is a very simple solution: buy a six pack of CFL bulbs. Its ten bucks and you'll get the money back by cutting 360W of power down to 85W. Feeling nuts? Buy 2 six packs!

RE: and backwords?
By Spuke on 3/19/2008 11:57:14 AM , Rating: 2
Funny guy. Too bad CFL bulb's have mercury in them. What do we do with that?

RE: and backwords?
By martinrichards23 on 3/19/2008 12:20:10 PM , Rating: 2
Lots of things have mercury in, what do you normally do?

RE: and backwords?
By Etsp on 3/19/2008 12:28:04 PM , Rating: 5
Dump it into the ocean, and eventually ingest it via tuna.

RE: and backwords?
By amdsupport on 3/19/2008 12:29:05 PM , Rating: 2
Lots of things have mercury in, what do you normally do?

Well, if its fish, we eat it!

RE: and backwords?
By SilthDraeth on 3/19/2008 12:30:42 PM , Rating: 3
I eat my CFLs when they stop working.

RE: and backwords?
By daftrok on 3/19/2008 5:38:07 PM , Rating: 2
Etsp, amdsupport, and SilthDraeth...are you guys hungry?

RE: and backwords?
By on 3/26/2008 1:58:32 PM , Rating: 1
I would love to kick you hard in the face, breaking it. Then I'd cut your stomach open with a chainsaw, exposing your intestines. Then I'd cut your windpipe in two with a boxcutter. Then I'd tie you to the back of a pickup truck, and drag you, until your useless fucking corpse was torn to a million fucking useless, bloody, and gory pieces.

Hopefully you'll get what's coming to you. Fucking bitch

RE: and backwords?
By GaryJohnson on 3/19/2008 12:42:18 PM , Rating: 2
The same thing we do with all the extra mercury emitted by coal plants to power incandescent bulbs?

RE: and backwords?
By daftrok on 3/19/2008 2:13:27 PM , Rating: 4
Take them to Home Depot when they burn out and they'll recycle them for you.

RE: and backwords?
By stirfry213 on 3/19/2008 12:53:54 PM , Rating: 2
One piece of information I would personally be interested in is comparing this data to the rate of expansion of east asian countries, namely China.

If US's population stays the same and we cut polution by 25% over 5 years. Yet China, with thier laxed polution standards, grows by 25% without changing any polution standards, how much does that offset our progress?

My guess, our 25% progress would be dwarfed by the polution gained by our neighbors.

Now don't go bashing me because I'm only considering whats being done TO the US. I really think we'd be embarassed to see how much polution we contribute to Europe.

RE: and backwords?
By pixelslave on 3/19/2008 1:38:58 PM , Rating: 3
If US's population stays the same and we cut polution by 25% over 5 years. Yet China, with thier laxed polution standards, grows by 25% without changing any polution standards, how much does that offset our progress?

Imagine our population doesn't stay the same and we don't cut polution by 25% over the next 5 year. At the same time, China continues to polute the Earth. What's next?

Sorry, it doesn't work that way. Just because they are the bad guys doesn't mean we should act the same way -- especially when we are accusing them for so many bad things. Now, if we are a country like one of those axis of evil, then go for it. Pollute the world in any way we want. But if we want to be the good guy, we ought to do the right thing, even if it's silly to do so because our effort will be offset by the bad guys.

RE: and backwords?
By stirfry213 on 3/19/2008 2:09:57 PM , Rating: 2
Man, you got the wrong message from my post. Completely.

I guess the question I was trying to pose is this: "Without blame, how do we reduce the net amount of polution in our air?"

If, overall, we reduce our polution, yet it is compensated by more polution from other countries, the net result is little/no change. How do we break this cycle?

RE: and backwords?
By Grast on 3/19/2008 6:37:58 PM , Rating: 2

We make Ballistic Missle Shield and neutralize the Chinese nuclear arsinal. Then we perform <wink>defensive</wink> first strike and poof, no more polution after the initial 10-25 years of fallout.

Effective. .....Later....heheh :0

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