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Roving Chemical Equator Points to Role of Wind Currents in Regulation of Smog Patterns

Posted Oct 18 2008 1:32pm

The Intercontinental Smog Express

I told you recently about the awful reality of the North Pacific Gyre, an informal oceanic garbage dump which is caused by casual dumping of solid waste at sea and along the world’s shorelines and formed by planetary wind patterns and water currents. Larger in area than the continental United States, the North Pacific Gyre is as large a stain on the face of the Earth as the unspeakable loss of tropical rain forests on most every continent.

Sadly, it turns out that there is something of an atmospheric cousin to the North Pacific Gyre, known affectionately among climatologists and meteorologists as the Chemical Equator. Confined to a range of latitudinal boundaries, the Chemical Equator is a vast pocket of dirty air which shifts throughout the year with monsoon winds but remains confined to the Intertropical Convergence Zone – a belt of low-pressure air which circles the Earth near the equator.

Driven by Hadley cells, the same results of solar radiation on the atmosphere as give us jet streams, trade winds and subtropical deserts, these cells occupy the intersection of the oceanic and atmospheric patterns of each hemisphere. Strangely enough, this chemical equator generally is dirtier in the north because the land mass north of the Equator contains millions more people than the south and thus millions of additional sources of air pollution.

What strikes me the most is that smoggy metropolitan and industrial areas have an effect so vast that it can be measured on a global scale. Now, thanks to the fine work of the Natural Environment Research Council in the United Kingdom and Clean Up The World in Australia, it is possible for each of us to see with amazing accuracy just where the results of the air pollution which we create will be trapped in the sky and rotated as the planet spins on its axis.

That’s right, through the power of Google Earth, we can see where the dirty air which we caused is located. Give it a try. You may find the results quite compelling. I know I did. Just visit the interactive map at

activities.cleanuptheworld.org

Fomenting the Triple Bottom Line

Corbett Kroehler

Photocredit: sealevel.jpl.nasa.gov

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