Air pollutants: harmful to the climate
Air pollution includes smog, toxic gas emissions from cars and factories, acid rain and the greenhouse effect. This has harmful effects on health and the climate. How is it possible that heavy air pollution is accompanied by warmer temperatures? Do weather conditions contribute to the level of air pollution? The wind can cause the polluted air to spread. Notorious air pollutants are carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides.
The cause of air pollution is not the weather, but sometimes weather conditions contribute to the degree of air pollution. For example, stagnant air masses and fog can cause smog. The word arose from the words smoke (smoke) and fog (fog). Then there is the photochemical smog, which is created by adding heat and sunlight instead of fog.
The influence of the weather
Heavy air pollutants are accompanied by a pattern of temperatures in the atmosphere called temperature inversion. The name derives this meteorological phenomenon from the reversal or inversion of the normal temperature trend in connection with the height in the air. Normally the closer you get to the ground the warmer and colder the higher you get. With a temperature inversion this is just the other way around. Then the top air layer is warmer than the air layer below. Normally, the warm air at the surface can easily rise due to the colder air layer above, so that waste products are removed. If an inversion layer hangs close to the ground, the polluted air will hang underneath.
Inversion layers can develop regularly. For example, they often perform on the west coast of North America during the summer. The cold westerly winds from the Pacific become trapped beneath the warm air of the country. In addition, another cool layer of air sometimes descends from mountain ranges further from the coast. The local air pollution then becomes very noticeable.
Photochemical smog occurs when there is a high pressure area above large cities in the summer. This also occurs in Europe. This air becomes polluted with often gaseous elements, some of which are waste gases called greenhouse gases. They block heat and waste gases because they form a kind of blanket, as it were. Global warming is all about the effects of these gases. If so many greenhouse gases end up in our atmosphere, it will become increasingly warmer on our planet with all its consequences.
The consequences of air pollution
Air pollution causes all kinds of problems. In the short term, residents of the large cities concerned are directly threatened by the polluted air that is inhaled. From day to day, weather conditions such as temperature and cloud cover can conspire with air pollution and make the air toxic. It can also be seasonal in which dirty air with high pressure areas is supplied by the wind, causing fog and higher temperatures than usual.
In the longer term, the waste gases also have far-reaching consequences for the climate and health. There are polluting gases that break down the layer of air that protects the earth against the UV radiation (ultraviolet radiation) from the sun for decades to hundreds of years. It is feared that in the future the global climate will change due to the increase in the greenhouse effect caused by certain polluting gases. For example, due to the melting of the ice caps, which will flood large areas of land.
Notorious air pollutants
There are several air pollutants that pose a threat to the climate and therefore our health. What are the main culprits?
Carbon dioxide occurs naturally in the atmosphere. If there are large amounts of this, it is largely washed out over the ground via precipitation. For about 150 years, this has been released into the atmosphere by cars, factories that burn oil and natural gas, and the content of carbon dioxide rises.
These consist of hydrogen and carbon and are found in car and factory exhaust fumes and contain toxic substances. Some gases react on hot days with the nitrogen compounds in the air, causing a thick layer of smog to form.
These are chemical compounds between nitrogen and oxygen that are emitted by cars and that form a brown layer of smog. This can also cause acid rain. It is bad for the health of the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys.
It is good that ozone forms a protective layer against the sun’s UV rays, but when it causes air pollution as a byproduct of chemical processes, it becomes unhealthy. It can irritate the eyes and lungs, and it is poisonous.
These chemical compounds contain sulfur and are produced during the combustion of coal and petroleum as well as in factories that process paper and textiles. These sulfur compounds smell bad and they cause acid rain.
Airborne dust particles can contain a variety of chemical compounds: metals such as copper and zinc, soot, asbestos fibers and pest control agents that are so small that they can easily be taken in deeply.
As already indicated, wind plays an important role in air pollution. It disperses and dilutes the polluted air in the atmosphere. If there is no wind, air pollution can have serious consequences. Heavy showers can push the air pollution high into the atmosphere and move it over enormous distances.
Raindrops always contain some carbon dioxide because it is present to a certain extent in the air. If too much carbon dioxide is released into the air due to air pollution, the concentration of acids in the rain increases many times over. This poses a serious threat to the environment. Fish stocks in lakes are drastically reduced, the growth of harmful algae is increased and forests are thinning.