Sunday, October 21, 2012

Smoggy View

Today I woke up to lightning, thunder, and a nice rain at about 6:30am in Shanghai.  It hadn't rained here in weeks, which is nice for wandering around in this warmer than average fall, but things tend to get pretty dusty and grimy without a little rain to rinse them (and the air) clean, so the rain was very welcome.

But it didn't last.  Something like 5mm actually fell, and the rain didn't knock the pollution out of the air, it just added some humidity to an already humid week and seems to be making the smog hang significantly thicker than usual.
Looking northwest at the smog.  Like the plant and the
cushions on the window seat though?

Above and right are a couple of shots I just took out of my office window to illustrate my point.  Eeew.  When these pictures were taken, about 11am, the pollution was in the "Very Unhealthy" category and the EPA recommends that "People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid all physical activity outdoors. Everyone else should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion."  That's why I'm staying inside.  ;)

The amount of pollutants in the air is definitely harder to gauge by looking at than I would think though, so luckily there are monitors to take the guesswork out of it.  The really harmful stuff is super small (2.5 micrometers in diameter) and stays suspended in the atmosphere for a long time.  Particles this small can go straight into your bloodstream through your lungs, and are therefore what is monitored by the U.S. Consulate here in Shanghai.  Check out their website for a good description of what they measure and hourly updates of what the PM2.5 count is at the Consulate building in Shanghai.  You can also check out their Twitter feed.

(Why it's posted on Twitter - which you "can't" get to from within China - is a slightly complicated story, which you can read about if you just Google "u.s. consulate shanghai air quality monitor" and read the WSJ and other stories.  The "official" (and reasonable) reason is that, in China, Americans primarily use Twitter, not Weibo, the Chinese equivalent, and since Americans are who the U.S. Consulate is there to educate, Twitter is what gets used.)

It's also worth comparing the U.S. readings to China's own readings, which are sometimes wildly different.  But not as bad as Beijing's Chinese versus U.S. readings, I hear.  Try the Shanghai Daily Air Quality page and the Shanghai Environmental Monitoring Center, but you'll have to get Google to translate it for you.  The Chinese authorities also measure totally different things and report them differently, so there is oftentimes good reason for the readings to be different.

So yeah, I'm just going to hang out inside today and catch up on some of the reading that I've been ignoring lately.

Update (1:09pm China Time): Newest U.S. Consulate pollution reading puts the level at "Hazardous".  Dang.

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