Asian products seem cheaper and cheaper but the true cost of those products does not end with your purchase. Nearly 15 percent of the air pollution over the western United States and Canada originates in East Asia, according to NASA researchers using the latest, most accurate satellite sensors.Their study offers the first measurement-based estimate of the amount of pollution from East Asian forest fires, urban exhaust, and industrial production that makes its way to western North America in as short a time as one week.
“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,” said study co-author Hongbin Yu.
Air pollution blankets a large region of central China so thickly that in places it completely obscures the surface from the satellite’s view. As acquired by the MODIS instrument on the Aqua and Terra satellites, early 2003. (Image courtesy NASA)
“This is a significant percentage at a time when the U.S. is trying to decrease pollution emissions to boost overall air quality,” said Yu. “This means that any reduction in our emissions may be offset by the pollution aerosols coming from East Asia and other regions.”
Satellite data confirmed that almost 40 billion pounds of pollution aerosols were exported to the northwestern Pacific Ocean and nearly 10 billion pounds reached North America annually from East Asia over the four year study period.
Yu, an associate research scientist of the University of Maryland working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, grew up in China and taught there as a university professor, where he witnessed and studied how pollution from nearby power plants in China affected the local environment.
The world’s most populated country, China has experienced rapid industrial growth, massive human migrations to urban areas, and considerable expansion in automobile use over the last two decades.
In 20 years, the country has doubled its emissions of man-made pollutants to become the world’s largest emitter of pollution aerosols, tiny particles that are transported across the Pacific Ocean by rapid airstreams from East Asia.
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