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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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RE: Smog city
By noxipoo on 3/19/2008 12:39:30 PM , Rating: 1
they are early in the development process, same as early US and UK where pollution is rampant. you can't except them to spend all their gains to control pollution like the US has now. when farmers live on $1 a day, they don't care if they are polluting working in a factory instead.


RE: Smog city
By deeznuts on 3/19/2008 1:11:32 PM , Rating: 1
yup, as noxipoo says they are a developing country. should go look up different stages of development for countries, it's an interesting subject. LDC MDC etc.


RE: Smog city
By Pneumothorax on 3/19/2008 1:40:15 PM , Rating: 5
The difference is that today the tech is there to control or greatly reduce the pollution. There were hardly any emission control tech during the early industrial revolution of UK & US.


RE: Smog city
By eye smite on 3/19/2008 7:14:16 PM , Rating: 1
I'm sorry, but you're all posting comments as though China and it's people care about pollution or who else it affects. Do you really think China cares, or are you applying your own perceptions on this situation?


RE: Smog city
By BansheeX on 3/20/2008 12:55:42 PM , Rating: 2
I think the libertarian point he is trying to make is that in the industrial revolution, the greatest rate of growth in American history, things were dirty. But they weren't dirty because environmental regulation was badly needed. They were dirty because technology was at the stage of coal burning. Once natural gas came along and the technology was created as a result of using coal to get there, things got a lot better - just by technological progress, not government regulation stifling that progress.

That being said, I think people do have a right to legal recourse if their air, water, or property is being polluted by a neighboring body. I'm not sure they have that in China, but they should.


RE: Smog city
By eye smite on 3/20/2008 2:34:09 PM , Rating: 1
Again I see more perception issues. You're applying the views of how you live in this country on how they live in China and it sure doesn't work that way. There's still a large number of plants right here in America that burn Coal to provide electricity, so while natural gas is obviously cleaner to burn, it's probably not as widespread as you imagine it is. So again I make the statement, most people posting on this article are applying their own perceptions on China and making false assumptions. Honestly, how many of you here are aware they round up dogs in the streets and kill them for furs to make fur coats, then sell the meat at the local market?........and of course the animal rights activists are up in arms over here about it, but what can they do..........what can you do? Here's some links on their dog killing diets:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uU_RvrP8lrg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14L9otvV0-U
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdZAn00W_PU

I don't think any of you understand or remotely realize how much the Chinese do not live like us and they surely don't care about any pollution they're breathing or especially you and I. In relative terms from a society standpoint, you could easily say China is the largest 3rd world country there is. The videos above are just one example. You want to see more, then watch the next link on how they're killing people in Tibet because Tibetans want their country and their Dali Lama back. This was in March of this year. Anyone remember Tianamen Square 19 yrs ago?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBhhOPXMCFk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZLzKBvvGMg

I've been called a racist and a bigot on this forum in the past for citing chinese history and how these people live. I would love to see the arguments anyone on this forum can come up with to rationalize this behavior that's right here in the links above on film as any type of civilized behavior. Furthermore, I'd like to see the arguments on how I'm racist for citing videos that so clearly show how much of a 3rd world country China really is.


RE: Smog city
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 3/19/2008 1:41:02 PM , Rating: 4
Sorry, but have to disagree with you. Yes, they are ramping up and now are far pass the USA.... Giving them special pollution passes I think was a mistake. If you going the build something, build it correct the first time, then you will not have to go back and up grade later.

It would be like a country building it's first car in todays world. Well we are new to the auto industry, so we are going to ask you all to accept our cars with NO seat belts and NO air bags. Do not complain about it, just buy them. Sure, USA and UK might have done and had more time to pollute because we enter the industrial age before China, but China should learn from our mistakes and build better plants not sub-par plants.


RE: Smog city
By Carter642 on 3/19/08, Rating: 0
RE: Smog city
By Alexvrb on 3/19/2008 8:41:25 PM , Rating: 5
Yeah, because you know how much China fears "intense international pressure".


RE: Smog city
By P4blo on 3/25/2008 1:15:32 PM , Rating: 2
This is why we're all totally culpable for China's actions. Whatever we say about them we're piling our manufacturing there because its cheaper. How much cheaper would it be if China had some human and employment rights to speak of and all it's factories were clean?

There's also a school of though that says give these countries the wealth first (manufacturing) then the human rights will come later when standards of living rise and the people get more of a voice.

We will have to see if China 'grows up' as a country or if it continues to rape its resources in the face of huge profits in the future.


RE: Smog city
By A5un on 3/19/08, Rating: -1
"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997














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