Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Bihar: LA times five

You think the air is bad in LA? Well, it is.

The main reason is that the southern California sunlight, a semi-permanent high pressure system producing a subsidence temperature inversion, and the use of the internal combustion engine as the main means of transportation produce the almost perfect storm for generating photochemical smog. Given the geographic and meteorologic facts, using the internal combustion engine as a mode of transportation to get around the Los Angeles Basin makes about as much sense as using iceskates to get around Death Valley.

But it could be worse. Much, much worse. Five times worse as a matter of fact. As the 100 million people in the northern Indian state of Bihar should have reason to know (although none of them did). This little fact has just been discovered by scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign using remote sensing data (aka satellites). Using the Multi-angle Imaging Spectro-Radiometer (MISR) aboard NASA's Terra satellite they have done the most detailed examination of industrial, smoke and other particulate pollutants to date over the Indian subcontinent. As in LA, meteorology, topography and human practices combined in an even more perfect storm that affects health and even the local climate. Despite the fact that Bihar is largely rural, it is also densely populated. The particulates are generated by uncontrolled use of biofuels as domestic energy sources. The particles are trapped at ground level by the walls of the Ganges Valley and a high pressure system that creates a subsidence inversion not broken up from below by the heating of the earth during the winter season.

The result: LA times five.
“The Bihar pollution pool must be having a tremendous impact on the local climate and the health of the approximately 100 million people that reside within this pool.” [Larry Di Girolamo, a professor of atmospheric sciences at UIUC] said. “Our long-term goal is to better predict the occurrence of these pollution episodes and their impact on public health and local climate.”
That's great. But how about, as a long term goal, CLEARING THE AIR.

This is an energy problem that is also a public health problem: a poor rural state choking itself to death because of the way it is forced to generate the energy it needs to survive.