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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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U.S. responsibility
By mxnerd on 3/19/2008 1:11:35 PM , Rating: -1
U.S. has polluted the whole world for over a century.

U.S. consumes 1/5 of the fossil oil daily.

U.S. consumes 40% of wood of world yearly (History channel).

U.S. did the most damage of the earth.




RE: U.S. responsibility
By Carter642 on 3/19/2008 1:44:19 PM , Rating: 4
Your point being what?

Should we have put the industrial revolution on hold until we could run the factories on solar power?

The US is transitioning to a high tech service economy, of course we consume alot. The thing to remember is that it will get better, as US energy needs continue to grow we will be forced to grow an ultra high efficiency power infrastructure. Then just wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

100 years is a paltry amount of time geologically and given the progress of the last 100 years it's an eon technologically so get a proper sense of perspective and have a little patience.


RE: U.S. responsibility
By 16nm on 3/19/2008 4:28:33 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
of course we consume alot.


And produce a lot, too. So it's not for nothing.


RE: U.S. responsibility
By mxnerd on 3/20/2008 2:15:50 PM , Rating: 2
I'm just trying to stress U.S. must act quickly to this fast changing world and I got negative points one after one?

"100 years is a paltry amount of time geologically and given the progress of the last 100 years it's an eon technologically so get a proper sense of perspective and have a little patience"

North pole probably won't be covered with any ice during this summer if this year is as hot as last year. Just look at our earth all over the world. Winter is not winter any more. Sping is not sping any more. And you still call for patience?

The problem is U.S. government under Bush admin is doing nothing! Do you know how many years does it take to develop a new technology and have it in place?

When season is not season any more, human probably can adapt. But how about the food we feed on? The fruit & plant don't have any sense when to sprout, when temperature begin to warm up, it sprouts and all of a sudden a extremely cold day damage the sprout.

And the fish don't know when to migrate. It will be a disaster to the whole food chain! The situation is getting severe year after year.

If we don't act fast to remedy out past fault, and of course we need the whole world to cooperate, Katrina example is just the beginning.


RE: U.S. responsibility
By bupkus on 3/19/2008 2:07:30 PM , Rating: 3
The U.S. has had pollution standards and ordinances in place for decades. Just because we've been ahead of the curve doesn't make us evil.

Does our early industrialization free China of all responsibility in their careless use of fossil fuels and disregard for air quality of their own cities?

Perhaps with a new Federal administration we can get back on track as world leaders of leading technologies, most specifically green technologies with intelligent, conscientious and globally cooperative policies.

Maybe we too can learn how better to take the high road in our discussions.


RE: U.S. responsibility
By Integral9 on 3/19/2008 2:09:28 PM , Rating: 2
We all share responsibility. Not just the US.

quote:
U.S. has polluted the whole world for over a century.

The European industrial revolution started about 100 years before ours.
quote:
U.S. consumes 1/5 of the fossil oil daily.

We should tap Rosy O'Donell for the other 4/5.
quote:
U.S. consumes 40% of wood of world yearly (History channel).

The great thing about wood is that it is sustainable.
quote:
U.S. did the most damage of the earth.

Some people would call it progress.

Now don't go slamming down your keys in anger. I'm just pointing out that these facts aren't all that persuasive. Yeah, polution sucks. It makes me caugh, I have to wash windows like every month, my clothes smell, etc. But to say that the US is the one responsible is ridiculous. It's not like the rest of the world is blindly following us like lemmings. In fact, I think most of them wish we would get out of the way, the rest would rather spit on us.


RE: U.S. responsibility
By 325hhee on 3/20/2008 9:49:15 AM , Rating: 2
So how much pollution do you think comes from the Indy 500 and any nascar type events, I'm sure that would be a large portion of the US pollution. And how about people buying Hummers, are they expecting to go to war or something?

And funny Nasa is putting out this report, how much pollution does all those rockets they launch cause?

pot, kettle, black


RE: U.S. responsibility
By bobny1 on 3/20/2008 9:59:45 AM , Rating: 2
The Chinese government is committed to become more powerful than the US. A totalitarian system don't care about the people, the world, the earth.. They will kill a couple of billion people in the process. Their philosophy is.."We have a couple of billions to spare". It is up to the rest of the world to slow them down and make them come to their senses before is too late.


RE: U.S. responsibility
By mxnerd on 3/20/2008 5:28:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The great thing about wood is that it is sustainable.

Do you know a tree needs 20 years to grow?

Growing trees is not the same as growing rice or corn, far from it.


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