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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 barjebus on 3/19/2008 1:05:08 PM , Rating: 4
You can't judge a nation who's industrialization process is just beginning. Most major western powers went through this same process and ruined the land for miles around major cities, all in the name of explosive growth in their manufacturing and power production industries.

As to moving manufacturing back to the U.S...NEVER going to happen. Ever ever ever ever. The reason why manufacturing even exists at all in the U.S. is because:

1.) Not everyone has the desire or brains to be an scientist/engineer/researcher. So they take job where they become a skilled worker with their hands. Jobs like building houses, laying pipe, building roads, etc. are all jobs that you can't send overseas to another nation. We'll always need gyp rock layers, carpenters, roofers, miners, etc. However, when it comes to manufactured goods, they can be shipped around, so automatically, the nation with the largest amount of untapped physical labor becomes to cheapest place to do business.

2.) Pensions, employee benefits, retirement plans, health care costs all keep manufacturing jobs out of western nations. Do you think Chinese factory workers have a retirement plan where their employer matches their contributions to a retirement fund, or have a severance package, or a pension when you retire? Again, all reasons why it's cheaper to do business elsewhere.

Unions have backed themselves into a corner such that only industries that require a physical presence to do their work (i.e. mines, repair people for roads, buildings, utilities) are the only one's still in America.

Sorry if this sounded harsh, it wasn't really directed at the parent, just stating my opinion :S

RE: Smog city
By Seemonkeyscanfly on 3/19/2008 2:17:49 PM , Rating: 2
Does not sound harsh at all, just sounds like you have not read the reports that have stated, "it turns out we do not save any money building over seas." This is not my option it is fact. The reason it may not come back to the USA would be the actual cost of moving.... relocating people, moving some equipment, new paper work that has to be written in a different language again, buying buildings, buying new machines, and the list goes on. These expenses will stop to move...Pension, benefits, retirement, health, and such will be there no matter were you are located. However, this is why I said, it's probably to late. (meaning to move them back.)

RE: Smog city
By Ringold on 3/19/2008 3:46:29 PM , Rating: 3
The reports I've read about that have had to do with the more popular whipping-boys of out-sourcing, call centers and whatnot.

Manufaturing of basic goods, though, I've never heard much dispute. Also, as I linked to above, our manufacturing output hasn't exactly shrunk by any means.

“And I don't know why [Apple is] acting like it’s superior. I don't even get it. What are they trying to say?” -- Bill Gates on the Mac ads

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