Secondhand Smog

If you were to check the tag on your t-shirt or the manufacturing label on something on your desk, chances are it would say “Made in China”. Nowadays, people are at least cognizant of the poor conditions of Chinese sweatshops or the famous smog largely resulting from manufacturing emissions and choose to stray away from certain clothing brands. But their manufacturing pollution isn’t contained under a Chinese dome, or even a Southeast Asia one. California is affected by Chinese smog.

Ian Faloona, an associate professor at UC-Davis, led a three-year study of California’s atmospheric pollution by studying the composition and origin of the particles collected from the air. The particles inspected were shown to have Asian dust mixed with heavy metal particles and fossil fuel combustion, showing that a large amount of ozone is blown over from Asia rather than natural sources.

10% of Californian air pollution is sourced from Asia, but they are not solely to blame. About 20% of China’s air pollution comes from the manufacturing of goods that are meant to for exportation, and the US is one of their top trading partners. The export sector contributes to approximately 25% of all Chinese emissions including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and black carbon. Figure 1 illustrates how much Chinese exports contribute to US sulfate pollution, especially in the west coast. And now we know that those emissions are not going to dawdle in China; like karma, what goes around comes around, whether it’s black carbon or a pair of sneakers.

Figure 1.


Now we have evidence that we can’t just expect another country to fix up their issues, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help them. We are pretty used to hearing pollution reports related to our own country or even our own state. The Real-Time Air Quality Index Map can even give indexes as specific as a minor district. But the earth lives under one ozone layer; the air I breathe is also the air respired by an infant, dignitary, or tree miles and miles away. Alternatively, the smog Asia produces is the same smog people in other countries far away will breathe. A clean environment is not a local responsibility; it’s a global one.

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


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. 


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?

Justice is Justice

The University of Minnesota conducted a study analyzing the relationship between census data and nitrogen oxide concentration.   The study showed that race was the most important factor in who is affected by air pollution in America. “The difference in exposures to nitrogen dioxide (N2O) between whites and nonwhite was 38%.” (theeconomist) In order to understand the implications of this study, it’s imperative to understand the effect of N2O on the human body and the racial disparities within American society today.

In the United States, urban areas are “disproportionately non-white, with over 52 percent of blacks and 21 percent of whites residing in central-city neighborhoods; while suburbs are disproportionately white, where 57 percent of whites but just 36 percent of blacks reside.” (nhi) Basically, more Blacks than Whites live in urban areas. These urban areas are heavily polluted, because they are generally in closer proximity to highways and power plants; which are large sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and keep the earth warm, this is called the greenhouse effect. When sunlight reaches the earth, land and water absorb it. Sunlight not absorbed is reflected back to space. The earth’s surface warms up and gives off infared radiation, greenhouse gases trap some of these infared rays in the atmosphere making the planet warmer. Figure 1 illustrates this process.

Figure 1


The University of Michigan Study focused on nitrogen dioxide, a common greenhouse gas, as the polluting agent.  Nitrogen dioxide moves throughout the nitrogen cycle, a “natural circulation of nitrogen among the atmosphere, plants, animals and microorgnaisms.” ( Figure 2 briefly illustrates this process.

Figure 2


Fossil fuels include oil, coal and natural gas. The burning of fossil fuels, also called combustion, is used industrially and residentially for electricity and heating. In urban areas, fossil fuel combustion releases nitrogen dioxide.  This pollutes breathing air and adds nitrogen to the nitrogen cycle. The result of this is climate change attributable to the greenhouse effect and health issues for the people exposed to the nitrogen dioxide. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide causes health afflictions ranging from airway inflammation to asthma and heart problems. For instance, in New york the admittance rate for asthma is 1.8 per 1000. However, in the South Bronx, a predominantly Black and industrial neighborhood, the admittance rate for asthma is three times that rate. (nihl)

The correlation between race and exposure to pollution is tied to the prevalence of poverty in urban areas. Pollution and climate change are issues seemingly tied only to environmental justice. Environmental justice and social justice, however, are undoubtedly connected. The problems that pollution and climate change wreak on the globe leave the disadvantaged more vulnerable, even within the boarders of the U.S.  Tamara Rodriguez Reichberg articulates this idea when she says:

“Racial and environmental injustice are linked to the same systemic problems of our society…both manifest in disease, and both are concerns to public health. Racial injustice as we know it is expressed through institutional racism and structural violence that affect the health of Black and Latino patients. Environmental injustice, too, disproportionately impacts Black and Latino patients.” (nhi)

Recognizing that environmentalism reaches the heights of social justce is motivation enough to become more energy efficient.  Think about it this way, turning off a light is not only an act of environmental activism but also a step towards civil justice.


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


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)


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


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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Changing Biomes in South Africa and it’s Negative Effect

Could it be possible for a region to experience a change of it’s biome? If you think that this is absolutely ridiculous, I hate to break it to you, but you are wrong. It is completely possible for a region to have a change in it’s biomes overtime. But first, you may be wondering what a biome is, so here is a little refresher. A biome is a large area on the earth’s surface, which is defined by it’s abiotic factors such as climate, precipitation, geology, soil, and vegetation. In each of the biomes, the animals and plants have to learn to adapt to the environment. A common misconception is that a biome is an ecosystem, but that is actually not true. Although it may seem that a biome is a large ecosystem, in a biome the plants and animals have adaptive qualities and because of this you will also find multiple ecosystems in a biome. More specifically, the grassland biome is predominant with different species of grass, with a few trees and bushes scattered across. There are two types of grasslands, the Savanna Grassland and the the Temperate Grassland. The grassland biome can be considered the medium or the in-between of a desert biome and rainforest biome. Because of it’s temperatures, it can be considered to be either, and because of it’s lond dry season, it can be classified as a desert.

Now back to what I was saying, an example of changing biomes is currently happening in South Africa. Because of the increasing temperature, which has to do with climate change, and the change in precipitation, South Africa is facing the challenge of trying to preserve the grassland biome. The grassland biome is getting reduced in size, which is leading to an increase in the desert biome. You can see in figure one, that even though there are several different types of biomes in South Africa, there is a large difference in the size of the grassland biome from several years ago to now.

Figure 1.

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The reason that this is such a big deal is because if the grassland biome begins to decrease, it will affect all of the animals and plants that have adapted to the certain biome. Some of these animals may not be abel to make the transition, which will cause them to die. This in turn can have a drastic impact on the ecosystems in the biome and the food web. For instance, if a zebra is unable to find grass, which it’s main source of food, then the number of zebra’s will decrease. This will then effect the cheetahs, which feed on the zebras.

Another reason that this is harmful is because of the increase in aridity, which refers to the dryness of the atmosphere. Because of the aridity, the area of the atmosphere can shrink. If you look at figure 2, as of 2002, the area highlighted in blue was rather large, but as the years progress, the area has shrunk because there is double the amount of CO2 emissions.

Figure 2.

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All in all, the changing of biomes is extremely hazardous to the environment and the ecosystems in these environments. The excess levels of CO2 in the atmosphere area result of humans; therefore, with less CO2 emissions, the changing of biomes can hopefully come to an end.


Disrupting the Carbon Cycle is not the only thing Deforestation is Responsible for…

Africa supports approximately 30% of the forests in the world, with a large amount of these forests located in Upper Guinea and Lower Guinea (Congo). Yet, these forests have been subject to an immense amount of deforestation. Although deforestation provides people with goods and resources, it is terrible for the balance of the Carbon Cycle and our atmospheric layers. Trees have large amounts of Carbon in their wood, and therefore when they are cut or burned, CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Unless there are enough trees planted or grown to recapture the lost carbon, the exchange between trees and the atmosphere of CO2 is put out of balance, which is a cause of global warming.

Although global warming is a very popular and conversational topic, there is one topic that is stealing everyone’s attention. You guessed it, Ebola. Ebola is one of the most dangerous viruses in the world today, causing many symptoms, one being internal bleeding, and is most likely by followed death. Now, you may be asking, “What does Ebola have to do with deforestation in Guinea?” Well, this latest Ebola epidemic is believed to have started in one of the small towns in Guinea, and has now spread all over West Africa (See Figure 1.).

Map of Africa depicting Ebola Cases

Figure 1: This map of Africa Depicts what areas Ebola cases have been confirmed or suspected. The highlighted areas in red show where confirmed and probable cases of Ebola have been found. The tan highlighted areas show where suspected cases of Ebola are. As shown in the map, a lot of these highlighted areas are in the Guinea region, where the Ebola epidemic is believed to have started.

People in West Africa commonly eat Fruit Bats in stew, yet bats are known to be carriers of the Ebola Virus. Due to deforestation, many animals’ habitats are being destroyed, including bats. With bat’s habitats destroyed and human’s have moved into prior forest areas, the interactions between bats and people in West Africa has increased greatly. This increased interaction between humans and bats has also greatly increased the chance that one of the fruit bats that are eaten contained the virus Ebola, and sadly this event did occur. Yet, it did not just effect a few people in Guinea, it has spread all over West Africa, taking thousands of people’s lives, and is now spreading into other continents, such as the United States. While the CDC and other organizations are attempting to contain and control this outbreak, it has not had much effect, and the virus continues to spread rapidly.

Ebola, according to the World Health Organization, has already claimed AT LEAST 4,493 lives, and the number is increasing. Yet, what played a major role in this epidemic? It was human’s impact on the environment. Deforestation has claimed not only a vast amount of the forest biomes in West Africa since 1955, it has also claimed thousands of people’s lives. (displayed in Figure 2.),

West Africa Deforestation from 1955 to 1988

Figure 2. Shows West Africa in 1955 in the top picture and West Africa in 1988 in the bottom picture. The green represents where “closed forest cover,” or full forest, is, the dark yellow represents ‘Fragmented forest,” and the light yellow represents where deforestation has taken place. These two photos show how drastic deforestation has struck West Africa and therefore gives you an idea of how many animal habitats were destroyed and taken over by humans. The full picture of Africa on the bottom right also shows this by using the red areas to depict where deforestation has taken place. This also refers back to Figure 1. and shows how greatly West Africa and specifically Guinea was affected by deforestation.

While global warming did become a large controversy, hopefully this deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus that has ignited immense fear and panic can express to the public what serious effects humans have on the environment, and how what we do to the environment, can strike back on us.

El Niño of 2014?

In a world where slight but significant changes in angles, distance or direction shift are constantly happening, regional climate is quite steadfast in comparison. However, El Niño and La Niña are both climate phenomenon that are not easy to predict, unlike phenomena like Hadley cells that constantly behave the way they do. The last El Niño was in 2009-2010 and forecasts say that the winter of 2014-2015 may experience El Niño, but not a particularly strong one (Roz, 2014). So should we be happy about this news? Coming from a country were summer monsoons could kill, I used to think that any form of strong rain was evil. But some other places suggest otherwise.

El Niño happens when there’s an unusual reversal of the direction of warm surface water in the Pacific ocean. This reversal happens when the trade winds, which normally move from east to west, reverse direction or simply weaken. When trade winds aren’t blowing westward, the warm surface water that moves from the western South American coast towards Australia instead builds up at the coast of Peru or Ecuador, creating areas of higher sea level, which also indicate warmer water (since water expands, like air). Warmer water in that area is indicative of El Niño.

Figure 1 shows the sea temperatures that are indicative of an El Niño and La Niña. Figure 2 is a recent Jason-2 satellite shot to compare with the El Niño example in Figure 1, and as one can see, Figure 2 doesn’t look too similar with Figure 1. Earlier this year, forecasts were wary that the El Niño of 2014 would be the devastating 1997 El Niño, but nowadays, it looks like an El Niño would be either wimpy or non-existent.

Figure 1.


Figure 2.


I used to wonder, “Aren’t these intermittent surprises a bad thing? You’d think that these climate curveballs would drive people nuts!” In 2004, El Niño was particularly harsh with Florida by sending four hurricanes at it. El Niño flooded Peru and Ecuador and in the past, and California dreaded El Niño because it also brought them floods and mudslides. But now that California is in the middle of an intense drought, they are begging Mother Nature to create a strong El Niño. Texas has been in the middle of a drought since October 2010 and like California, is hoping for El Niño to give them rain (Blaney, 2014). Now that I looked into the current conditions of certain places, I’m doing what I never thought I would do: I am hoping for a hurricane (for California and Texas at least). The possible El Niño of 2014 has reinforced the idea that anomalies aren’t completely bad, and that’s something I think that people should keep in the back of their minds when regarding anything unexpected whether its data, traditions or even life. A curse to one is another’s blessing.


“Last Chance for El Nino Drought Relief? New Kelvin Waves Cross Pacific – NBC News.” NBC News. 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.


Blaney, Betsy. “El Nino Forecast to Help Texas out of Drought.” Houston Chronicle. 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014.


Pidcock, Roz. “Climate Scientists Dub This Year’s El Niño “a Real Enigma”.” Web log post. The Carbon Brief. 4 Aug. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <;.

Rogers, Paul. “California Drought: El Niño Chances Increase, but Scientists Say It May Be a Weak One.” San Jose Mercury News. 5 June 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2014. <;.