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February 27, 2008

Weather lab detects Asian air pollutants in the Rockies

Posted: 11:09 AM ET

We were in Steamboat Springs, CO, for a weather conference recently.  Climatologists and meteorologists from around the country engaged in lively debate and discussion on topics ranging from global warming to the latest forecasting technology. 

The week was quite illuminating, especially if you like heady science stuff.  We also got in a little skiing, which was amazing with 22 inches of fresh powder.   

I was there with CNN weather anchor Rob Marciano, who had the opportunity to visit the Storm Peak Laboratory  high atop Mt. Werner.  I produced a news piece about it for CNN’s American Morning, which ran today.   

At elevation 10,500 feet, the only ways to reach the lab are to ski, snowmobile, or climb.  On a clear day you are able to see for miles.  Rob skied up there when it was about 9 degrees and blowing snow, and he was a little out of breath in the thin air. 

He interviewed the two researchers who run the lab: Dr. Anna Gannet Hallar and her colleague Ian McCubbin.  What they had to say was fascinating. Did you know they can detect pollution from Asia in the middle of the Colorado Rockies?  Startling!  Scary! 

Dr. Hallar explained that large dust storms in Asia loft air and collect industrial plumes from coal-fired power plants in China, India and other countries.  You can even see these storms – and pollution clouds – in satellite imageryThe industrial plumes are sucked into weather systems and travel across the Pacific to the United States. 

Storm Peak Lab is so high that it’s actually “in-cloud” about 25-30% of the time.  Its sophisticated probes detect and analyze particulate matter in the clouds.  The size, shape and chemistry of cloud particles yield clues about the origin of particular pollutants.   

So how do they know it’s pollution from Asia?  They are finding mercury.  McCubbin told us that coal in Asia is known to have high mercury content, and that he was surprised that the toxin was still present in the air thousands of miles from the source. 

Now, of course it’s not a whole lot of mercury, but it is evidence of just how far this anthropogenic – or manmade – pollution can travel.  Nothing makes air dirtier than burning coal, and coal-fired plants have been linked to global warming, acid rain, and even asthma. 

And just think, once mercury is in the clouds, precipitation brings it right back down to earth where it enters our streams, lakes, rivers, oceans and into the fish we eat.     

- Alex Walker, Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Uncategorized

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Solar John   February 27th, 2008 2:46 pm ET

We need to clean up our own act before we start pointing fingers at Asia for polluting the air with coal dust. Our disregard for the mountains and people of Appalachia is a national disgrace. We don't just pollute streams there, we bury them, killing all life in the process.

Ken in Dallas   February 27th, 2008 5:08 pm ET

The Chinese are easily a match for Americans when it comes to generating, suffering from, and ignoring the consequences of pollution. We have Appalachia, and they have their cancer villages where the only available water's so polluted their cancer rates are a thousand times normal.

We need to get our own house in order, but nobody profits through trying to castigate the scientific community for detecting the fact that China's problems are also our problems.

RLD   February 28th, 2008 8:08 am ET

Pollution is global. Our rampant use of carbon based fuels worldwide is a well aimed shot in the foot. And now this shift to more efficient internal combustion engines.....which in truth is all about money. Do you really want to go green? Walk or ride a bike to work today.

ann robinson   February 28th, 2008 9:48 am ET

Where is your news about the scientists report on global cooling?????????
Why am I not surprised that you won't report the truth.
Humans don't not affect global temperatures or weather.
No grant money, or bogus books, or awards for reality.
Humans are not omnipotent, nature is in control.
Opportunistic domesayers will have to find real jobs, and stop exploiting our fears.

ann robinson   February 28th, 2008 9:53 am ET

What does "Your comment is awaiting moderation." mean?
Please explain. I call it as I see it, and I see little in the way of reality on "global warming" reporting on CNN, and hope for more honest

allen   February 28th, 2008 10:37 am ET

We are all interconnected.

Ian   February 28th, 2008 11:55 am ET

Do you know what the irony of this research is? The US has been sending pollution to Canada for decades and you've never cared about that, now that the US is receiving someone else's pollution they've got something to cry about.

Praetorian, Ft. Myers, FL   February 28th, 2008 12:02 pm ET

It's a small world when you consider atmospheric currents.

The Chinese are by far worse polluters than the U.S.!!!

America has been fighting to improve air quality for over 30 years. Just look at any photo of L.A., Las Vegas, or New York City–prior to 1980 and compare that photo to one taken today. You will find the attack against smog and air pollutants has been a successful one.

The Chinese are only NOW...beginning to tackle their emissions and air quality problems. And they will be the largest purchasers of carbon based fuel over the next 10-20 years as their economy grows and their citizens become more affluent.

This is a global issue. America has pretty much gotten it's act together but has done DIDDLEY about exerting it's own successes around the globe.

Our attention needs to be at home–but special emphasis needs to be placed on our trade and other agreements with heavy polluting nations–particularly China.

Jim Lein   February 28th, 2008 1:28 pm ET

In all fairness–air pollution in the Steamboat Springs area–including Mt. Zirkel Wilderness–has long been a problem primarily associated with coal fired power plants near Hayden and Craig just west of town. Also, the Storm Peak Lab is within the ski area boundaries and requires an "arduous" journey of riding an enclosed gondola and two high speed chairlifts.   February 28th, 2008 2:56 pm ET

In so many words - nice mind you, this is why President Bush did not want to participate in the Kyoto (sp?) treaty which upset alot of countries such as New Zealand, etc...I found this article most interesting...

Ken in Dallas   February 29th, 2008 11:56 am ET

Let's be really clear about internal combustion engines: the ones we have now are about 25% efficient, and the "higher efficiency" IC engines are struggling to reach 35% efficiency. This is a fundamentally and inherent inefficient technology, and we have to look forward toward its retirement.

In contrast, electric motors are 85%->90% efficient, more than three times the efficiency of what we have now, and more than twice the best prospective IC efficiency.

Keep in mind that about 2/3 of US oil consumption goes to transportation. Adoption of electric vehicles would reduce our oil consumption by about 60% (reducing import requirements to a trickle) and would only increase electricity consumption by about 16%. It would also effect about a 60% net reduction in energy consumed by transportation, by eliminating our single most wasteful use of energy.

John   March 2nd, 2008 6:23 am ET

I agree with Ian. I live in a part of Canada that is downwind from the US midwest including Michigan and Ohio. In the summer we often have health advisories about excessive air pollution caused by the emissions from coal fired power plants in the US midwest. I have seen a low blue haze over vast tracts of farmland and forest in areas where there are no local fcatories or power plants.

Ben   March 2nd, 2008 6:14 pm ET

This is an important article, and I am glad they made the connection between our pollutants, and our bodies.

Sure, the amount of mercury may be small, but it gets concentrated as it moves up the food chain. A good example of this is the 'Seafood Warning' signs near supermarket fish counters in California. It lists 15 types of common fish that are now too polluted with mercury for consumption by seniors, nursing mothers, and young children.

Most of our electricity comes from coal-fired plants, which emit mercury. If you don't like mercury in your fish, install CFL lightbulbs instead of incandescents. Sure, CFLs contain 2-3 mg of mercury in them, but they can be recycled safely - and, using an incandescent bulb will consume so much coal-fired electricity in its life (over 10 mg/incandescent bulb) that using CFLs is by far the best thing we can do. I learned this at Google 'energy efficient lighting' for lots of options.

matthew   March 5th, 2008 7:08 pm ET

well, quite frankly, all of this is useless conjecture anyways, because the reality is, the three primary economies on this planet have not been voted into caring. Of course, if a president really pisses of the Big Money, they need to be able to survive the assassination attempt.
A nice round of JFK"s reasoning would do the whole world real well about now-sigh-

ryuu   March 6th, 2008 8:50 am ET

Face it, all of you are right- and wrong. China is one of the world's largest producers that supply a mass of products consumed in the US. Check any lable if you don't believe me. Placing all the blame on a country with little pay, and big factories placed in there by the US, Japan, and more- that's not really fair now. Besides, as much as the US whines and throws a fit, we don't do ANYTHING but search for a scape-goat. What about the mass that drives to a store 3blocks down the road? Hmm? How about all the hours spent watching TV or playing games, or supplying McDonalds with a tub of fat? Somebody has to spend all that energy- coal, methane, ect.- in order to produce it. The US is just as bad as China, if not worse. Nobody CARES. As long as American Idol plays once a year, or half hearted promises are made, the US doesnt CARE. End of story.

Terry Folk   March 6th, 2008 10:44 am ET

There you go!!!
This is exactly why the United States of America should NOT sign any agreements on environmental pollution when we do 100's of times more in pollution control than most countries of the world.
Asia, China, Mexico and the Central America Regions are the countries that are killing their own people and now the rest of us.
A recent article shows the people in North and South Korea in a pollution cloud from all the contaminents coming out of China. Trade restrictions should be developed and implemented against all countries who have no concern for the environment and only care about the money and their slave employees.
Fair trade agreements should only be with countries who have environmental laws equal to or better than the United States (like Canada, Japan, and many of the European Countries).
I've been in safety for 30 years and I can bet you China, Asia or Mexico have never heard of a "smoke stack emission test". We do. We're required to do monthly here in the United States.

Ken in Dallas   March 7th, 2008 12:47 pm ET

Ryuu, I don't know what your standards are, but it seems to me that to obsolete and eliminate the internal combustion engine, as I advocate here, would be a materially helpful change to the climate change equation. I would like to see Americans bring this innovation about, but, realistically, I don't care who develops the solution nearly as much as I care about seeing it emerge and be adopted.

If there's a single greatest bit of low-hanging fruit among the things we can do about climate change, the retirement of the internal combustion engine is it. This one step would reduce the oil demand among its adopters by 90% per vehicle, and the relative efficiencies involved would reduce net energu consumption per vehicle by roughly 60%.

So what's the best idea you'd like to contribute?

Mrriut   March 9th, 2008 1:35 am ET

Quit defending 'Asia' and calling names here in your own country. They're just as much to blame, if not more, than we are for the current pollution problems.

bob   March 9th, 2008 11:29 pm ET

Of course it's all about big money and what greed, grubby little (really, really little) people will do to acquire it. Just remember @#$%& brains, you cannot take it with you. Or, as a family member of mine puts it: one never sees a Uhall behing a hearse Pity, isn't it? All that demented struggle to amass as much money and god/satan won't let you take it to heaven/hell. Guess your money's useless there, eh? Pity!

Mr. Spock   March 24th, 2008 12:32 am ET

I think it's time we get off coal and go nuke, or else use some other form of energy producing resource more frequently, like wind, solar, or hydro-electric. Coal is an antiquated inefficent form of energy producing, we only use it because it is cheap and abundant. It's time we get serious about seeing how badly we are polluting the atmosphere and the waters.

Savannah Scott   May 11th, 2010 10:55 pm ET

Incandescent light bulbs will soon be phased out because they waste a lot of energy.~:~

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