Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Travelling pollution – East Asian human activities affect air quality in remote tropical forests

31.03.2015

Researchers from the UK and Malaysia have detected a human fingerprint deep in the Borneo rainforest in Southeast Asia. Cold winds blowing from the north carry industrial pollutants from East Asia to the equator, with implications for air quality in the region. Once there, the pollutants can travel higher into the atmosphere and impact the ozone layer. The research is published today in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, an open access journal of the European Geosciences Union (EGU).

Rainforests are often associated with pure, unpolluted air, but in Borneo air quality is very much dependent on which way the wind blows. “On several occasions during northern-hemisphere winter, pockets of cold air can move quickly southwards across Asia towards south China and onward into the South China Sea,” says Matthew Ashfold, Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.


Borneo rainforest (Credit: Ch'ien C. Lee)

In a new study, Ashfold and his team show that these ‘cold surges’ can very quickly transport polluted air from countries such as China to remote parts of equatorial Southeast Asia. “The pollution travels about 1000 km per day, crossing the South China Sea in just a couple of days,” states Ashfold, who was based at the University of Cambridge, UK, when he conducted parts of the study.

The researchers were initially looking for chemical compounds of natural origin: they wanted to test whether the oceans around Borneo were a source of bromine and chlorine. They designed their experiments to measure these gases, but also detected another gas called perchloroethene, or perc, in the air samples they collected from two locations in the Borneo rainforest. “This gas is a common ‘marker’ for pollution because it does not have natural sources,” says Ashfold.

The team wanted to find out where the man-made gas came from, and where it might go. “We used a UK Met Office computer model of atmospheric transport to look back in time, at where the air samples we collected had travelled from.” Their experiments suggested the high levels of perc in the air samples were influenced by East Asian pollution, as reported in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics study.

Perc is produced in a number of industrial and commercial activities, such as dry cleaning and metal degreasing, and exposure to large amounts (above about 100 parts per million) can affect human health. While global emissions of perc have declined in the past 20 years or so, it is not clear whether this has been the case in East Asia, where air pollution has increased over the past couple of decades.

The researchers say the levels of perc measured in Borneo are low, at a few parts per trillion. But because the gas does not occur naturally, even small concentrations are a sign that other more common pollutants, such as carbon monoxide and ozone, could be present. Ozone, for example, can damage forests when in high concentrations, as it reduces plant growth.

Indeed, the team’s measurements showed the amounts of perc varied strongly over the course of about a week, and models they analysed indicated this variation to be related to similar changes in carbon monoxide and ozone. “During the one ‘cold surge’ event we studied in detail, levels of these pollutants over Borneo appeared to be double typical levels,” Ashfold points out.

But diminished air quality in the remote rainforest is not the only way East Asia pollution affects the tropics. “The atmosphere over Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific is home to unusually strong and deep thunderstorms during the northern hemisphere winter. Because of this, the region is an important source of air for the stratosphere,” says Ashfold.

In their study the researchers show that, once in the deep tropics, the polluted air is lifted towards the upper atmosphere. “This can introduce a range of industrial chemicals with atmospheric lifetimes of just a few months to the stratosphere, which could have a potentially negative impact on the ozone layer.”

# # #

Please mention the name of the publication (Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics) if reporting on this story and, if reporting online, include a link to the paper (TBA) or to the journal website (http://www.atmospheric-chemistry-and-physics.net/).

*More information*
This research is presented in the paper ‘Rapid transport of East Asian pollution to the deep tropics’ to appear in the EGU open access journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics on 31 March 2015.

The scientific article is available online, free of charge, from the publication date onwards, at http://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/recent_papers.html. A pre-print version of the paper is available for download at http://www.egu.eu/news/150/travelling-pollution-east-asian-human-activities-affe....

The team is composed of M. J. Ashfold (Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, UK [Ch. Cam.], now at School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, Semenyih, Malaysia), J. A. Pyle (Ch. Cam. and National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, UK), A. D. Robinson (Ch. Cam.), E. Meneguz (UK Met Office, Exeter, UK), M. S. M. Nadzir (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Malaysia and Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences, University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur [IOES]), S. M. Phang and A. A. Samah (IOES), S. Ong and H. E. Ung (Global Satria Life Sciences Lab, Tawau, Malaysia), L. K. Peng and S. E. Yong (Malaysian Meteorological Department, Lahad Datu, Malaysia), and N. R. P. Harris (Ch. Cam.).

The European Geosciences Union (EGU) is Europe’s premier geosciences union, dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the Earth, planetary, and space sciences for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. It is a non-profit interdisciplinary learned association of scientists founded in 2002. The EGU has a current portfolio of 17 diverse scientific journals, which use an innovative open access format, and organises a number of topical meetings, and education and outreach activities. Its annual General Assembly is the largest and most prominent European geosciences event, attracting over 11,000 scientists from all over the world. The meeting’s sessions cover a wide range of topics, including volcanology, planetary exploration, the Earth’s internal structure and atmosphere, climate, energy, and resources. The EGU 2015 General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria, from 12 to 17 April 2015. For information about meeting and press registration, please check http://media.egu.eu or follow the EGU on Twitter (https://twitter.com/EuroGeosciences) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/EuropeanGeosciencesUnion).

If you wish to receive our press releases via email, please use the Press Release Subscription Form at http://www.egu.eu/news/subscribe/. Subscribed journalists and other members of the media receive EGU press releases under embargo (if applicable) 24 hours in advance of public dissemination.

*Contacts*
Matthew Ashfold
Assistant Professor at School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus
Jalan Broga, Semenyih
Selangor, Malaysia
Tel: +6 (03) 8725 3434
Email: matthew.ashfold@nottingham.edu.my

John Pyle
Professor at the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge
Cambridge, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 336473
Email: john.pyle@atm.ch.cam.ac.uk

Neil Harris
Lecturer at the Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge
Cambridge, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 763816 (shared)
Email: Neil.Harris@ozone-sec.ch.cam.ac.uk

Bárbara Ferreira
EGU Media and Communications Manager
Munich, Germany
Tel: +49 (0) 89 2180 6703
Email: media@egu.eu

Weitere Informationen:

http://www.egu.eu/news/150/travelling-pollution-east-asian-human-activities-affe... – release on the EGU website
http://www.atmospheric-chemistry-and-physics.net/ – Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (journal)

Dr. Bárbara Ferreira | European Geosciences Union

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology
22.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

nachricht How reliable are shells as climate archives?
21.06.2017 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>