Its Hard Not To Care When There Is So Much Smog In The Air

Living in New England, we have all encountered several blizzard warnings in which we are advised not to leave our homes. But can you imagine not being able to leave your home due poor air quality. For many of us this is unimaginable. How could the air quality within a whole country be so poor that one could not leave their home? For me, I actually lived through a smog epidemic during the summer of 2013 (Figure 1). This epidemic was so bad that the government made it illegal for individuals to leave their homes for about 3 days. Smog and excess air pollution is a chronic problem in Asian countries. This week I decided to dive in deeper and truly understand how smog build up occurs and why we see it so often in Asia.

Figure 1

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Smog by definition is the combination of smoke and fog. Smog is a black haze comprised of a mixture of pollutants (Figure 2). But how exactly is smog created? As previously mentioned, smog is essentially a combination of pollutants in the air. When these pollutants are burnt the fumes are then released into the air.  These fumes come directly from things such as heavy traffic, high temperatures, sunshine and calm winds.The smog we see today is called photochemical smog. Photochemical smog is when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and at least one volatile organic compound (VOC) in the atmosphere. Examples of nitrogen oxides include car exhaust, coal power plants, and factory emissions. Examples of VOCs are include gasoline, paints, and many cleaning solvents. When the sunlight hits these particles it sparks the creation of fumes thus creating smog. Asian countries tend to have high populations thus resulting in an increase in the number of automobiles and heavy traffic. In addition, Asia being located near the equator makes for high temperatures and plenty of sunshine. These factors double the effects of smog and amplifies the effect. 

Figure 2

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Smog can be extremely detrimental to ones health and in some cases it can be fatal. Smog gives off an immediate effect and theres no gradual build up. Smog can cause minor health issues such as a cold and pneumonia. Although this is the case, smog can also be responsible for major health issues such as lung cancer. Smog is most commonly known for causing irritation  in the eyes and increasing the difficulty to breathe (figure 3). Smog also deteriorates plant life. With several pollutants in the air, this makes it difficult for plant life to prosper and continue to grow. More often than not plant life can completely die as a result of smog. 

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So what can you do to help? There several small actions one can do to reduce the amount of smog emitted in urban areas. First and for most, avoid driving if it is not necessarily. Try walking, carpooling, and or using bikes if everyone tries to do this smog emissions will slowly begin to decrease. In addition, fill your automobile with gasoline during the cooler hours of the day; this prevents gas fumes from heating up and producing ozone. Finally, if one cuts down on gas powered appliances and uses electrically powered appliances in stead this will also reduce the amount of smog.

The smog epidemic personally effected me and I am fearful that the problem will increase if we dont do anything about it. This problem can be reduced as long as we are aware and try and put forth our best effort to reduce the number of gas powered appliances we use!!! What will you do to reduce the effects of smog on our community?

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If It’s Sunny You’ll Save Money

Considering the fact that this blog is online, I am assuming that you are using a computer, smartphone or tablet to view this page. Now, I ask you to take a moment to reflect and think about how long you have been on this computer and how much electricity you have been using during the duration of this time. The average American spends about 5 hours a day on digital devices ( figure 1). Annually, that is a total of 1825 hours on digital media. Think about this, and think about how much it costs the average American to power their digital devices.  This means that the average American can spend up to 600 dollars just on electrical bills for their computer. However, what if there was a way to power your computer just using the environment around you?

Figure 1

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Using solar power is all the rage as individuals are discovering that they can cut back on electrical bills by using energy from the sun. Solar panels allow us to use , solar energy (a type of solar power) which comes from the sun. In doing so, solar energy can be converted into electrical energy, which can then be used to power things such as a computer and other devices which need electricity to work (figure 2).  Solar energy allows one to power devices with low cost renewable energy and using solar energy to power devices is a fairly simple process.

(Figure 2)

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Companies such as Samsung and SOL have developed laptops that run solely on the energy from the sun. The computer developed by Samsung is powered by a solar panel embedded in the lid. In order to function the computer needs approximately 2 hours of sunlight to get 1 hour of working battery life. When fully charged, the computer battery can last up to 14 hours straight. This computer costs about $350 US dollars. Similarly the company SOL (known for developing devices using solar energy) developed a laptop which uses solar energy as well. This laptop is more efficient than the Samsung, as it is equipped with a detachable solar panel which can obtain 10 hours of battery life from just 2 hours of sun exposure (figure 3). This Laptop costs the exact same amount as the samsung computer, costing about $350 US dollars. By purchasing either of these laptops one would be purchasing a laptop $400 dollars less than the average computer and it is powered free of charge due to its solar panel technology.

Figure 3

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Converting to solar energy is 100% cost efficient and can end up saving you thousands of dollars (figure 4). Personally, I think that everyone should convert to solar power as it is a natural never ending resources that the earth has given us. Although one must pay for the initial cost of installing solar panels, in the long run solar panels save you up to 7 thousand dollars (figure 4). By using solar energy one can cut back on electrical bills and it makes for a more cost efficient lifestyle. Developing technology that allows computers to run on solar panels is truly revolutionary and I think that there is no better place to start converting people to using solar energy, than the devices we use on a day to day basis.

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A Storm Three Times The Size of Earth

If Timmy throws a ball from his front yard in Boston towards the Equator in a straight line heading south, in what country will the ball end up?

Pull out your map and look at the country that is on the Equator directly south of Boston. The answer is Columbia, right?

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Wrong!

The question seems simple; a map and a ruler should be all we need to answer it upon first glance. However, there is something else happening to the ball once Timmy throws it that makes the answer a bit more complicated. It is called the Coriolis Effect.

The Coriolis Effect describes the way objects passing over the Earth respond to the Earth’s rotation. Since the Earth rotates as a whole, the speed of rotation at the Equator is faster than that at the poles. The combination of atmospheric convection currents with the Coriolis Effect create high and low pressure systems called Hadley, Polar, and Ferrel Cells. Earth’s air is pushed and pulled through these systems due to the four major properties of air: density, water vapor capacity, adiabatic healing and cooling, and latent heat release. Objects travelling over the Earth’s surface also appear to become displaced, such as Timmy’s ball. However, Timmy’s ball is actually still moving in a straight line, while the Earth rotates under it.

So instead of landing at the end of a straight line south, Timmy’s ball would actually appear curve along the surface of the Earth and end up somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

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The ball is thrown in a straight line, but the Earth rotates beneath it.

The Coriolis Effect also has an impact on large scale storms, such as hurricanes. The air in a hurricane is transformed into the telltale whirlpool image through high- and low-pressure systems created by the Coriolis Effect. High speed rotation at the Equator pushes the air towards the poles, then the low pressure at the Equator draws the air back in.

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 Hurricane air systems are formed by air pushed from the more rapidly rotating Equator towards the poles.

However, Earth is not the only planet that experiences the Coriolis Effect. Jupiter, in particular, has an incredibly strong Coriolis Effect due to its immense size and high speed rotation. Since Jupiter has the fastest rotation in the solar system, the force Jupiter’s Coriolis Effect is magnified. It does not have three cells of high and low pressure systems like Earth. Instead, it has bands of air that whip around its surface, creating the striped look that can be seen from outer space.

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot has recently been shrinking.

Like Earth, Jupiter’s Coriolis Effect impacts storms. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, for example, is directly at the point at which two of Jupiter’s air bands meet, creating a pressure system so great that the Great Red Spot was approximately three times larger than Earth at its largest. Recently, however, the Great Red Spot has been shrinking. Now, it is only about the size of one Earth. One hypothesis is that some activity in Jupiter’s atmosphere is drawing energy away from the storm. I think it could potentially be due to a shift in Jupiter’s Coriolis Effect, which would interfere with the meeting place between the bands of high pressure air that caused the Great Red Spot in the first place. However, scientists are not sure why it is shrinking.

The Coriolis Effect impacts so many different things in our universe: storms, air patterns, convection currents, airplanes, missiles, and even rockets, not just on Earth but on other planets as well.