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Beijing Olympic Games offer air pollution experiment

August 11, 2008 |  3:37 pm

Olympicsmog_3

The first weekend of the Olympic Games in Beijing offered harrowing glances of the haze and pollution hanging over the Chinese capital. But the snapshot is not the normal state of affairs. Actually, pollution is normally much worse. China has cut back on industrial production and transportation in an effort to keep its air healthful enough for competition.

The brief hiatus in environmental degradation offers a window of opportunity for scientists at Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego to chronicle effects of curtailing pollution on global warming.

Drones will fly out of South Korea and gather data about how the "great shutdown" will affect the way heat is trapped or reflected by black carbon, a pollutant linked to drought and flooding in China.

"In previous studies, meteorological data gathered by the aircraft helped demonstrate that atmospheric brown clouds can diminish the solar radiation that reaches Earth's surface, warm the atmosphere at low altitudes and disrupt cloud formation," Scripps officials report.

Air pollution measurement is not uniform, and that has made comparisons among China and other places, such as Los Angeles, difficult. We've been running a chart on PM-10, or large particulate pollution, in our special section on the games. That's one of the numbers that translates simply, but it is far from the whole picture.

-- Geoffrey Mohan

Photo: Beijing residents cruise by the "bird's nest" national stadium, cloaked in smog several weeks before the games began. Credit: Peter Parks AFP / Getty Images

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