It Isn't Always Best to Share

Environmental monitoring stations atop the nearly 4,200-meter-high summit of Hawaii's Mauna Loa volcano are showing that air pollution can be more than a local phenomenon.

That's right. The sensitive instruments have found traces of arsenic, copper, and zinc lofted into the atmosphere from smelting factories in China, thousands of kilometers distant! When industrial pollution first showed up at Manua Loa a few years ago, scientists were startled. Now, after intense study, they know that the pollution that dirties the world's largest cities affects the whole planet.

“It turns out that Hawaii is more like a suburb of Beijing,” says atmospheric scientist Thomas Cahill (University of California, Davis)—as is the West Coast of the United States.

But China is not the only culprit. Europe, for instance, gets the brunt of chemical air pollution from the United States, and similar situations occur around the globe. Every industrialized country is creating air pollution that, in turn, is affecting other distant countries.

The fact is, large storms can hoist a plume of particles high enough to hook up with the jet stream. Once high enough, dust from the Sahara Desert or smoke from raging forest fires in the Southwest can easily travel half-way across the globe. “We live in a small world,” Cahill says. “We breathe each other's air.” This is one case where, if we want to make a global change, we will have to act locally.

Vocabulary

industrialized:
Having much industry.

jet stream:
A high-speed, meandering wind current, generally moving from a westerly direction at speeds often exceeding 400 kilometers per hour at altitudes of 15 to 25 kilometers.

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Activity

  1. What was found on Mauna Loa a few years ago?
    [anno: Pollution from China was found on Mauna Loa a few years ago.]
  2. Why did this discovery bother atmospheric scientists?
    [anno: This discovery bothered atmospheric scientists because it means that pollution is being spread from countries that are far away.]
  3. Why is it important to monitor and fix this problem?
    [anno: It is important to monitor and fix this problem because if there is too much pollution in the air, it will start to harm plants, animals, and people.]