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article imageNew insights into atmospheric pollution sound warning bells

By Tim Sandle     Jun 30, 2020 in Environment
The global heating effect is leading to higher than predicted levels of methane, an insight that relates to better understanding aquatic microbial life. In other areas, the levels of harmful particles remain high, especially in the Sahara.
Some important global pollution research has been released over the past few weeks. We take a look at three important areas.
Increasing methane levels
A new study finds that as the Earth warms, then natural ecosystems including freshwaters will release more methane, and less carbon dioxide, than was previously anticipated from climate model predictions. This is due to microbial life and how methane release is triggered by temperature increases alone. By studying microbial communities in freshwater, British researchers have found They found that warming produces a disproportionate increase in methane production compared with methane removal. This leads to the higher-than-expected rise in methane emissions.
The impact is significant upon climate models since methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and the impact of global heating upon freshwater lakes is therefore greater.
This research is published in Nature Climate Change - "Disproportionate increase in freshwater methane emissions induced by experimental warming".
What is happening with global air quality?
Scientists from Washington University in St. Louis have analysed data drawn from multiple satellites together with ground monitors and machine learning in order to develop a powerful map of pollution across the globe. Drawing on the data period 1998-2018, the research takes a snapshot of world's air quality.
The focus of the data analysis is with PM2.5 size particles (for 2.5 microns). These are particles connected to human activities, from manufacturing processes to wood-burning cookstoves.
According to Professor Randall Martin there is some variability with the data and in some cases pollution levels are not as great as other models predict. However, it remains that sizable proportions of human populations are exposed to dangerous levels of pollutants. Martin states: "The broad plateau of very high concentrations, to which a large population is exposed, is quite concerning."
The research is published in Environmental Science & Technology, where the paper is titled "Global Estimates and Long-Term Trends of Fine Particulate Matter Concentrations (1998–2018)."
Particle levels and infant mortality
Further with dangerous levels of airborne particulates, a study into sub-Saharan Africa shows how a relatively small increase in airborne particles can significantly increase infant mortality rates. In this region it has been found that children aged under five are especially vulnerable to tiny airborne particles linked to air pollution. These particulates are associated with lower birth weight and impaired growth, plus lower life-expectancy.
Given that many of the pollutants are the consequence of dust (from sand), the researchers propose installing solar-powered irrigation systems in desert areas. The scientists predict that such technology could avert 37,000 infant deaths per year in the sub-Saharan region.
The research is published in Nature Sustainability, and it its titled: "Dust pollution from the Sahara and African infant mortality."
More about Pollution, Atmosphere, Global warming, Climate change
 
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