Hazy Kumamoto
Hazy Kumamoto

By Evan

Some might have noticed (particularly Claire, sorry!) that my postings have dropped quite a bit during the past month. The reason for this is that I have been on a world tour during the past month. I have literally flown through every major time zone in the world. Due to this, my 2013 has 364 days!

Right now, I am having an extended stay in Japan. It is exciting to experience this country, which is quite different than hanging out in the Commonwealth. I struggle a bit with Japanese (i.e. I can say hello, good evening and thank you, and that is about it), but everyone is so friendly.

japan_air_qualityOne thing that isn’t so nice about Japan is particulate matter in the air. My girlfriend came home last night and said “it isn’t cloudy, there is just a lot of particles in the air!” Sure enough, going outside it smelled like smoke. The imagine on the left is a capture of the air quality readings in Japan on Friday morning, taking from this website. Orange values indicate that people with breathing problems should take precautions when outside. As I write this, the region I am in, Kyushu, has low values, but that is because it is raining out.

It is not an uncommon sight to see people wearing face masks while walking around. They do this to try and protect themselves from the particulate matter. However, people generally wear surgeon masks, which according to the air quality website, are inadequate to protect yourself from the particles, because they do not completely seal off the mouth and nose. The only effective masks are the ones that strap on to the back of your head. 

There are many causes of particulate matter in the air. The primary one that makes the news is air pollution. Here in Kumamoto, there were a lot of problems in March from the smog cloud that drifted from China. This is a major political issue, with China’s rise in industrialization causing problems in neighbouring countries. Another cause for particulate matter is natural, though. Wind blowing off the Gobi Desert kicks up what is known as Yellow Dust in the spring. This dust is a major cause a lot of the poor air quality ratings this time of the year. It appears there are efforts to mitigate yellow dust by revegetating land to prevent further desertification in the Gobi region.

Particulate matter can be monitored by satellites. Two researchers from Dalhousie University determined a global map of particular matter in the atmosphere. The highest values were in regions with deserts, and highly industrialized areas where there are a lot of coal power plants. The highest values are notably in eastern China, where there is a combination of these two factors. Particulate matter in the air is a serious health issue, causing problems with the respiratory system, and other parts of the body.

As I wrote this post, I was reminded of my trip to Vienna. Most of the famous buildings were undergoing renovations to remove the black coating caused by air pollution during the industrial revolution. The building below is the famous Stephansdom, showing parts that have been renovated, and parts that are still black. Air pollution not only causes health problems, but affects the landscape!