'Alarming' Report Uses NASA Satellite Data to Reveal World's Toxic Air Pollution Hotspots
A new report by Greenpeace International pinpointed the world's worst sources of sulfur dioxide pollution, an irritant gas that harms human health. India has seized the top spot from Russia and China, contributing nearly 15 percent of global sulfur dioxide emissions.
Australia, a sparsely populated country, that burns a tremendous amount of coal for power and also mines copper, lead and zinc ranked 12th on the list, according to the report, as the Australian Associated Press reported.
The report singled out Australian air pollution standards as being too lax, since it allows power stations to emit sulfur dioxide at higher rates than in China and the European Union, as the Guardian reported. In fact, Australia has no regulations in place to limit sulfur dioxide emissions. Australia's air pollution standards are a target for criticism and political action since its standards are now 11 times higher than what the World Health Organization recommends.
"We need governments to be bringing in new standards backed by health organizations," said Jonathan Moylan, a Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaigner, as the Australian Associated Press reported.
Air pollution in Australia is a factor in 4,000 premature deaths each year, more than twice as many as the number of traffic related fatalities there each year. While sulfur dioxide is a main contributor to acid rain and its toxic particles negatively affect human health, contributing to heart and lung disease, as well as dementia.
BREAKING: An alarming Greenpeace report compiling NASA satellite data reveals that some of the world's biggest hots… https://t.co/ZVWKF3fiBj— Greenpeace Aus Pac (@Greenpeace Aus Pac)1566172866.0
"Air pollution is the price our communities pay for the federal government's failure to stand up to big polluters," said Moylan, as the Guardian reported. It's time for state environment ministers to show leadership by championing health-based sulfur and nitrogen dioxide standards, strong pollution limits for industry and speeding up the switch to clean renewable energy."
"Australia's power stations are some of the dirtiest in the world because they are allowed to emit up to eight times more air pollution that power stations in China," said Moylan to the Australian Associated Press.
Even though China ranked second in the world amongst the worst sources of toxic air pollution, it was complimented in the report, along with the U.S., rapidly reducing emissions.
"They have achieved this by switching to clean energy sources and particularly China achieved it through dramatically improving the emission standards and enforcement for SO2 control," the executive summary says.
Russia had the single worst polluting hotspot from its Norilsk smelter complex, followed by a power plant in South Africa. In fact, the Mpumalanga province in South Africa is home to 12 coal-fired power plants, which makes it the most toxic sulfur dioxide region hotspot in the world, according to a Greenpeace statement.
"These pollutants can cause childhood asthma, lung disease, cancer, birth defects and reproductive issues," said Ben Ewald, a doctor with Doctors for the Environment Australia, to the Guardian.
As for India, the world's top emitter of sulfur dioxide, the report noted the vast majority of plants in India lack flue-gas desulfurisation (FGD) technology to reduce air pollution. It goes on to note that the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change introduced emission limits for coal-fired power plants in December 2015. However, a Supreme Court order shifted the deadline for installation of FGD technology in power plants from 2017 to 2022.
The report was compiled after an analysis of hotspots detected by NASA Ozone Monitoring Instrument satellite data that captured more than 500 major source points of SO2 emissions across the globe.
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.