Asian pollution, heat waves worsen US smog, Princeton-NOAA study shows

From PRINCETON UNIVERSITY and the “excessive EPA regulations caused massive exports of US industry to Asia and all I got was this lousy smog” department.

PRINCETON, N.J. — An influx of pollution from Asia in the western United States and more frequent heat waves in the eastern U.S. are responsible for the persistence of smog in these regions over the past quarter century despite laws curtailing the emission of smog-forming chemicals from tailpipes and factories.

The study, led by researchers at Princeton University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), highlights the importance of maintaining domestic emission controls on motor vehicles, power plants and other industries at a time when pollution is increasingly global.

Published March 1 in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, the study looked at the sources of smog, also known as ground-level ozone, across a period ranging from the 1980s to today. Ground-level ozone, which is distinct from the ozone in the upper atmosphere that protects the planet from ultraviolet radiation, is harmful to human health, exacerbating asthma attacks and causing difficulty breathing. It also harms sensitive trees and crops.

Despite a 50 percent cut in smog-forming chemicals such as nitrogen oxides, commonly known as “NOx”, over the past 25 years, ozone levels measured in rural areas of the west have actually climbed. And while ozone in the eastern U.S. has decreased overall, the levels can spike during heat waves.

Surface-level ozone, also known as smog, has increased over the past quarter century at western US rural sites during springtime, partly due to rising Asian pollution, whereas smog has decreased in the eastern US but can spike due to heat waves, according to a new study from Princeton University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). Shown are the 1988-2014trends in springtime ozone levels on days that were very smoggy (top panel) and of average smogginess (bottom panel), from observations (left) and from a model built by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (right). Larger circles indicate sites where there is greater certainty about the ozone trend. On very smoggy days (top panel), ozone levels have declined in the east, as indicated by the blue circles. Ozone levels have increased in the west, as indicated by the red circles, despite a 50 percent reduction in the emission of smog-forming pollutants. CREDIT Meiyun Lin

Surface-level ozone, also known as smog, has increased over the past quarter century at western US rural sites during springtime, partly due to rising Asian pollution, whereas smog has decreased in the eastern US but can spike due to heat waves, according to a new study from Princeton University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL). Shown are the 1988-2014trends in springtime ozone levels on days that were very smoggy (top panel) and of average smogginess (bottom panel), from observations (left) and from a model built by the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (right). Larger circles indicate sites where there is greater certainty about the ozone trend. On very smoggy days (top panel), ozone levels have declined in the east, as indicated by the blue circles. Ozone levels have increased in the west, as indicated by the red circles, despite a 50 percent reduction in the emission of smog-forming pollutants. CREDIT Meiyun Lin

The study traced the increase of ozone in the west to the influx of pollution from Asian countries, including China, North and South Korea, Japan, India, and other South Asian countries. Collectively, the region has tripled its emissions of NOx since 1990. In the eastern U.S., meanwhile, heat waves — which have become more frequent in the past few decades — trap polluted air in place, leading to temporary escalations in locally produced ozone.

The study explains why springtime ozone levels measured in Yellowstone National Park and other western parks far from urban areas have climbed over the past quarter century. According to the study, springtime ozone levels in the national parks rose during that period by 5 to 10 parts per billion (ppb), which is significant given that the federal ozone standard is 70 ppb.

The influx of pollution from Asia could make it difficult for these areas to comply with the federal ozone standards, according to the study’s authors. “Increasing background ozone from rising Asian emissions leaves less room for local production of ozone before the federal standard is violated,” said lead author Meiyun Lin, a research scholar in the Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Princeton University and a scientist at GFDL.

Lin’s co-authors were Larry Horowitz, also of GFDL; Richard Payton and Gail Tonnesen of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and Arlene Fiore of the Lamont-Doherty Earth-Observatory and Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.

Using ozone measurements combined with climate models developed at GFDL, the authors identified pollution from Asia as driving the climb in ozone in western U.S. national parks in the spring, when wind and weather patterns push Asian pollution across the Pacific Ocean. In the summer, when these weather patterns subside, ozone levels in national parks are still above what would be expected given U.S. reductions in ozone-precursors.

While it has been known for over a decade that Asian pollution contributes to ozone levels in the United States, this study is one of the first to categorize the extent to which rising Asian emissions contribute to U.S. ozone, according to Lin.

In the eastern United States, where Asian pollution is a minor contributor to smog, NOx emission controls have been successful at reducing ozone levels. However, periods of extreme heat and drought can trap pollution in the region, making bad ozone days worse. Regional NOx emission reductions alleviated the ozone buildup during the recent heat waves of 2011 and 2012, compared to earlier heat waves such as in 1988 and 1999. As heat waves appear to be on the rise due to global climate change, smog in the eastern U.S. is likely to worsen, according to the study.

Climate models such as those developed at GFDL can help researchers predict future levels of smog, enabling cost-benefit analyses for costly pollution control measures. The researchers compared results from a model called GFDL-AM3 to ozone measurements from monitoring stations over the course of the last 35 years, from 1980 to 2014.

Prior studies using global models poorly matched the ozone increases measured in western national parks. Lin and co-authors were able to match the measurements by narrowing their analysis to days when the airflow is predominantly from the Pacific Ocean.

Modeling the sources of air pollution can help explain where the ozone measured in the national parks is coming from, explained Lin. “The model allows us to divide the observed air pollution into components driven by different sources,” she said.

The team also looked at other contributors to ground-level ozone, such as global methane from livestock and wildfires. Wildfire emissions contributed less than 10 percent and methane about 15 percent of the western U.S. ozone increase, whereas Asian air pollution contributed as much as 65 percent.

These new findings suggest that a global perspective is necessary when designing a strategy to meet U.S. ozone air quality objectives, said Lin.

The negative effect of imported pollution on the US’s ability to achieve its air quality goals is not wholly unexpected, according to Owen Cooper, a senior research scientist at the University of Colorado and the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, who is familiar with the current study but not directly involved. “Twenty years ago, scientists first speculated that rising Asian emissions would one day offset some of the United States’ domestic ozone reductions,” Cooper said. “This study takes advantage of more than 25 years of observations and detailed model hindcasts to comprehensively demonstrate that these early predictions were right.”

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Study: http://www.atmos-chem-phys.net/17/2943/2017/

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50 thoughts on “Asian pollution, heat waves worsen US smog, Princeton-NOAA study shows

  1. What increase in heat waves since the 1990’s? In the climate models? Or in Karlized temperature records?

  2. Wow, everything humans do is bad, all the time, every possible incident. They are so excited to say ’20 years ago we predicted’ doom and gloom and gosh we were right. Humans just suck at everything we do.

    • I believe the point is that increased EPA regulations that force companies to move outside the US (in this case to Asia) where pollution standards are lower can result in a net increase in pollution.

      • Any intelligent person working in Industry knew and watched this happen. Were the zealots in the EPA and the administration stupid or just not care about the consequences of their extreme regulations

      • I still run into leftists who proclaim without a hint of embarrassment that tax levels have absolutely no impact on economic activity.
        I remember one young socialist who proclaimed that increasing taxes on the rich will cause them to work harder, since they will need more pre-tax income in order to maintain the same post-tax income.
        So it’s quite natural for them to proclaim to each other that regulations have no impact on business decisions.

      • You are right Cat. Efforts to comply with the 75 PPM limit had not yet been fully implemented and realized when they lowered it to 70 PPM. Talk about moving the goal posts! Some groups wanted it lowered it to 60 or 65 PPM so they could shut down all industry and make everyone stop driving. Sheesh.

      • Catcracking says: “I still run into leftists who proclaim without a hint of embarrassment that tax levels have absolutely no impact on economic activity.”
        I’ve gotten liberals on two of the three sides of the argument. That is, ones who say there is a positive Impact since taxing gives the government more money to give to the people to spend which stimulates the economy.

        I tell them to look up the definition of the word tax. “a strain or heavy demand.” They just give me the doe eyed stare.

    • Yes.
      Destroy US and European industry.
      Problem solved.
      Socialist Paradise created.

      Auto
      Mods – a touch of the /sarc about the above. Just to be clear.

  3. So true – when you export manufacturing, heavy industry and jobs to developing countries at the behest of environmentalists who want to close down industry in your own country, the rewards you get are increased levels of pollution, unemployment and a decline in standards of livng for many.

    It has long been known and demonstrated that this is the result of such policies. The proponents of this are, in effect, traitors to their own country and to their fellow countrymen and women.

    Looking from the other side of the pond it seems to me that the greatest culprit in this regard was a certain Mr Obama …..

    • No matter how many times this scenario plays out, they still act surprised each time it happens again.

      • The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over,and being suprised when there isn’t a different result.

      • Felflames
        Insanity?
        Or creating a Socialist Paradise?
        Old England seems to have it about right: –
        “The proponents of this are, in effect, traitors to their own country and to their fellow countrymen and women.”

        Auto – no .. /sarc .. here, I assure you.

    • Another in a long list of unintended consequences when green activists try to save the world.

  4. Donald Trump will reduce pollution in the USofA by bringing back manufacturing from China where pollution is largely unregulated. We have better pollution controls. What could possibly go wrong?

    • Hopefully he will also reduce the incidence of corporations (mostly service) from robbing the third world of its most skilled workforce through the abuse of the H1b visa program.

      I am not anti immigrant. I just see far too many abuses of this program.

      • To an unfortunate degree, many of the people who want to prevent foreign skilled workers from coming to the US, will be the same people whining about foreign corporations stealing business from American companies in about 10 years.

      • Yes those who supported generously got cheap labor at the expense of the taxpayers who have to support the bill for the unemployed and on welfare/food stamps. Where are the patriotic industries of the past who hired and trained works in the numerous industries. Many moderately educated workers were trained and became highly skilled in their jobs including running and maintaining refineries and other industries requiring highly trained skills. Why are the current Tech industries absent in this job development. They want to be subsidized by taxpayers.

      • In the 50’s the rest of the world was still recovering from WWII and US industry was the only game in town.
        Absent another world war, US industry has to recognize that it has no choice but to compete with companies all over the world.
        Companies that waste money on feel good “nationalism” will quickly go bankrupt.
        PS: Companies exist for one reason and one reason only. To make money for the people who own them. They don’t exist to create jobs, they don’t exist to help countries feel good about themselves.

    • “We have better pollution controls. What could possibly go wrong?”
      Those controls will be relaxed under Trump. Nothing like going back to the smog levels before the mid-70s to make America great again

  5. Let’s see the accuracy of the rural ozone levels. There is already evidence of ozone data problems that were not released by EPA while making policy that harmed cities and economic development. So there is a basis for asking about data validity on that all along the way on that one.

    • I notice that they have that one red dot up in Northern California. That is the northern end of the Sacramento Valley which has Highway 5 as the main north/south connection for the West Coast. Air easily gets trapped in that upper portion of the valley. Too add to that, winds from the south will move pollution north to the upper valley from the more heavily populated region around Sacramento with its many highway junctions.

  6. If the computer modeled it a sophist programmed it.
    Visited the site (GFDL) read the paper, looked at the information provided and found no code.

    GFDL-AM3 model: GFDL scientists mathematically model systems so that they can be studied by computer simulation methods. Using high-resolution coupled climate models, GFDL is developing prediction systems for climate extremes on time scales of seasons to decades.
    “Why Do We Believe Them?
    Although there is some level of disagreement among climate models, these models are based on well-founded physical principles either directly for simulated processes or indirectly for parameterized processes. The results of one experiment are extensively checked by a large community of modelers and researchers around the world (for example, as part of the IPCC), which reduces uncertainty. Generally, models produce simulations of current and past large-scale climates that agree with observations. Climate models have also produced an accurate hindcast of 20th century climate change, including increased warming partly due to CO2 emissions. This gives us confidence in using these models to project future climate change. ”
    Sorry, not me, I lack total confidence in anything produced by rent seekers.

    They/we need an Open Source project where the data, code, documentation are readily accessible to all that enroll, programmers, documenters, testers and data providers. Audit trails with branches, standard version control mechanism applied and the final out come rigorously tested with automated testing resulting in levels of confidence posted on each version, code and data.

    Finally, if the model predicts anything it must be backup by physical evidence before being used for political decisions and everyone must agree.

    • “Using ozone measurements combined with climate models developed at GFDL,”

      I call bull$#;+

  7. Forgot to throw in applicants audit trails, anyone that applies to work on the model but is denied access; All is made public, those that applied and those that denied along with the reasons.
    We all know the results of limiting the narrative to make the subject one sided.

  8. I don’t quite get from the post how it was concluded that an increase in ground level ozone in the western US is due to pollution in Asia. I agree it is a reasonable hypothesis but did they consider other possible factors? Is there direct evidence not supplied by models? We know there is increased greening of the biosphere especially in some areas previously restricted by drought and that greening is likely due to a combination of increased CO2 and some warming. Vegetation is a source of many volatile organics which act as precursors for ozone – the very reason natural parks in parts of the US stubbornly refuse to come into compliance with the EPA ozone standards (damn those trees). We also know that salt in sea spray can act with airborne NO2 to create ozone – could that be more of a factor on the west coast and could recent weather changes or sea warmth have played a role? Once again the described use of models makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

  9. “the importance of maintaining domestic emission controls on motor vehicles”

    For shame. Motor vehicle emission controls produce CO2.
    /sarc/sarc/sarc

  10. Increased terpene emissions from carbon dioxide fertilization of increasing forest cover? Or is it increased ozone from lack of chlorine monoxide ;). Damn you Montreal Protocol.

    The smoky mountains have had a pall of terpene haze for centuries. Even before the European invasion.

      • Yeah, got them mixed up. Both are photochemically active and with NOx and UV, give rise to O3. Isoprene and terpene are the limiting reagent as verified by the Sunday hypothesis where O3 didn’t drop on Sunday as predicted under vehicle NOx studies.

  11. Western parks . Springtime . Up as much as 10 ppb . To what total level ?
    And why not all year long ? Do Asian factories not operate all year ? Do natural springtime events affect ozone levels ? What is the rest of the story ?

  12. “As heat waves appear to be on the rise due to global climate change, smog in the eastern U.S. is likely to worsen, according to the study.”

    I’m certainly not an expert, but I’ve researched the literature with respect to tropospheric ozone and read where it is produced when a mixture of NOx and hydrocarbon pollutants are exposed to UV light from the sun. I didn’t see any references to temperature effects.

  13. Quote: The model allows us to divide the observed air pollution into components driven by different sources

    Oh no it didn’t. The model produced what it was programmed to produce.

  14. “As heat waves appear to be on the rise due to global climate change, smog in the eastern U.S. is likely to worsen, according to the study.”

    …as likely as all the predictions from all those other models – good grief

  15. They are desperate to blame anybody and everybody for the source of the ozone. They need to hide the fact that they are regulating to below the level of naturally occurring ozone. The goal is to have regions “out of compliance” all the time. By declaring a region “out of compliance”, EPA grants to itself enormous powers to force “compliance”.

  16. Priceless. So the models failed in their predictions/projections. But if they looked at only certain conditions, they got some agreement. Then they proclaim the models will be useful for future predictions/projections.

  17. Recently there is spurt in poor quality reports on the lines of global warming relating to pollution. Down To Earth, a magazine published by Centre for Science and Environment [CSE] on 14th February 2017 presented an article “Dirty Air dooms Indians to early death”. Darryl D’Monte in his assessment report titled “Does India’s refusal to tackle air pollution amount to genocide?”–www.ecologise.in/2017/02/24/Darryl-dmonte-every-breath-take/ — state that there were 1.1 million premature deaths in India due to long-term exposure to pollutions. The highest number of premature deaths globally due to ozone is also in India”.
    Down To Earth report presented year-wise people dying early due to PM2.5 [RSPM] and ground level ozone pollution for several countries. The below data refers to India.

    Year: 1990/1995/2000/2005/2010/2015
    PM2.5 [lakhs]: 73.7/ 79.5/ 85.7/ 89.6/ 95.7/109.0
    Ozone [Thousands]: 43.5/ 54.4/ 66.8/ 73.0/ 88.1/107.8

    These are a falsified alarms created not based on facts but based on fiction. Ozone is not directly emitted but is formed through reaction of variety of gases like NOx, VOC & CO under the influence of sunlight and temperature. We must not forget the fact that the pollution measurements were sparse in both space and time. The Hindu Daily newspaper dated 28-2-2017 under Environment section presented a report “The Hindu, 28-2-2017 [Environment]: Global studies on India’s air quality flawed: CPCB by Jacob Koshy” – see the location:

    http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/global-studies-on-indias-air-quality-flawed-cpcb/article17379615.ece

    I was monitoring the pollution in twin cities of Hyderabad for the past two decades: with the fuel and vehicle technology the pollution levels have come down drastically by 2003-05 – prior to 1998 one vehicle used to produce pollution equivalent to 10 vehicles of after 2000. SO2 reduced from 18.6 in 1998 to 1.9 in 2003 and reached to 5.0 in 2006 — Down To Earth magazine presented a story on pet coke [generated waste from fuel refinement] raising SO2 level again by burning it but this is not reflected in the SO2 data –; the same in the case of NOx are 42.5 (2000), 20.1 & 25.5; in the case of RSPM they are 128 (1999). 73 (2004), 99 (2006); in the case of TSPM are 287, 216 (2004), 261. RSPM, TSPM, NOx are very high at Abids, Punjagutta, Paradise & Charminar with low dispersion capacity and very low at Zoo Park & KBR Park with good dispersion capacity of the ambient air. These changes are not reflected in the people dying early due to PM2.5 [RSPM] and ground level ozone but simply presented a monotonic increase irrespective of pollution level [see above table]. Though the data refers to all India and pollution change in Hyderabad, the technology impact across the country is the same.
    Darryl report also narrates a story “The New York Times, correspondent who wrote he was leaving the country for fear of worsening his young son’s Asthma. Successive governments have turned a blind eye not only to urban air pollution but also to indoor contamination caused by smoky chullas”.

    Let me present a case of mine. When I was with DDGC/I&D Division of IMD/Pune in 1972, Parliament raised an issue on the accuracy of normal onset date of southwest monsoon in Delhi. To respond this I collected the historical sub-division-wise onset dates from old records. This act gifted me with Bronchitis Asthma. Dr. Grant gave me high potency medicine and this lead the use of Adrenalin Injection daily. In 1976 June I joined ICRISAT in Hyderabad. It gave me an opportunity to take fish medicine in 1977 and got it cured. Also, Pune-Mumbai zone is famous for Allergic Asthma due to pollen from a weed that entered India with PL-480 Wheat from Mexico, known as Perthanium Weed [Congress Grass].

    Air pollution rarely causes deaths but keeps the patient lifelong on drug and thus major share of the earnings go to health care. These are helping bulk drug manufacturing industry, health care network and they in turn causing more pollution, a vicious circle. Deaths are caused by several factors and so far nobody has data on cause-wise death since 1990 or even from 2000. Average human life showed a steady raise. People quote figures from air. Chest Hospital reported in and out patients but not deaths.

    The present article also followed the same path except that they used model to predict cause and effect with hypothetical theories.

    Pollution levels are high in winter. The dispersion of pollutants depends upon the “mixing depth” – inversion layer height. These limit the carrying out of pollutants to longer distances.

    Need to characterise the role of improvements in technologies of fuel & vehicles and pollution reduction to understand the time series of pollution loads at any given point/area.

    Unless these are understood in terms of local climate and general circulation systems, hypothetical inferences help publishing a paper but not serve to establish cause and effects theories.

    Models serve the logic of “cow is white and wall is white, so cow is wall or wall is cow” only.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

  18. “According to the study, springtime ozone levels in the national parks rose during that period by 5 to 10 parts per billion (ppb), which is significant given that the federal ozone standard is 70 ppb.”

    Wrong, wrong, wrong!

    Let me check for smog, https://airnow.gov/

    No smog. I am old and remember smog. There was not a web site back then that provided numbers. Watering burning eyes was a clue unless you had allergies.

    • “Retired Kit P March 2, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      Watering burning eyes was a clue unless you had allergies.”

      I am from England, south greater London, and this reminds me of Christchurch, New Zealand, in the winter of 1996.

  19. No data or GDFL projections for the Great Plains? At all? The whole area from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River, south to t he Ozarks? I guess that’s because our only ozone comes from thunderstorms since we lack the orographic profile for temperature inversion layers. even with this blatant neglect of local conditions, I notice that the ‘model’ consistently overestimates increases in ozone concentration compared to observations.

  20. I learned a number of years ago that we were getting China’s pollution 10 days after the fact. I guess I don’t understand why they needed another study…I will say that it travels farther than I thought.

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