Study Shows Overall Air Quality to Worsen by 2050

By Wanda Archy, posted on August 18th, 2012 in Atmospheric Chemistry Theme, Climate, Health, Quick Look

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Satellite imagery showing pollution over China blowing out to sea. Source: SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE.

Pollution over China blows out to sea. Source: SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, and ORBIMAGE.

A study recently published has determined that if man-made emissions continue at present levels, air quality for the average person will worsen by 2050. Published in the European Geosciences Union’s (EGU) open access journal called Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, the study determined that the average world citizen forty years from now will have the same air quality as felt by today’s average East Asian citizen.

The study used the Atmospheric Chemistry General Circulation Model, EMAC, to predict the impact of anthropogenic emission changes. Researchers focused on recent and future years (2005, 2010, 2025, and 2050) to make their predictions. They then used a Multi Pollutant Index (MPI) to determine the regions that would suffer most from air pollution in the future. Researchers combined demographics and the pollutant concentration projections in the Population Weighted MPI (PW-MPI) to determine the effects on the average world citizen.

“The model uses basic mathematical formulation to predict the meteorology and the chemical composition of the atmosphere,” said Andrea Pozzer, lead of the study in an EGU press release. “In practice, it is a software used to forecast – or hindcast, for past years – the status of the atmosphere at specific times.”

The researchers concluded that the overall air quality will worsen by 2050, if no additional air pollution or climate change policies are implemented beyond those in 2005. The study determined that if the “business as usual” use of current technology for food and energy continues, then man-made air pollution will increase in the future.

“At present the post-Kyoto climate negotiations are progressing slowly, and it is unclear how air quality policies will develop globally,” explains co-author Greet Janssens-Maenhout.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), urban outdoor air pollution causes 1.3 million deaths per year. Already densely populated regions, such as East and South Asia, will experience the worst air pollution, with levels tripling. Although Europe and North America will be affected, these regions have already implemented policies over the past two decades to mitigate the effects of pollution and therefore will not be as severely affected.

Two maps showing levels of carbon monoxide over the globe. Source: NASA, Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, based on data provided by the NCAR MOPITT Team

Source: NASA, Robert Simmon and Jesse Allen, based on data provided by the NCAR MOPITT Team.

The study found that high levels of pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, and fine particulate matter such as PM2.5, will persist in East Asia in both 2025 and 2050. Northern India and the Arabian Gulf, on the other hand, will experience high levels of ozone.

“We show that further legislation to control and reduce man-made emissions is needed, in particular for eastern China and northern India, to avoid hot-spots of elevated air pollution,” adds Pozzer.

This research is the first-ever analysis piece of all man-made air pollutants harmful to human health, covering sulphur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and PM2.5. Additionally, the study examined non man-made pollutants that result from desert dust, sea spray, and volcanic emissions. Overall, the research provided evidence that without more legislation to reduce emissions, world average air quality will worsen in the coming decades.

“Strong actions and further effective legislation are essential to avoid the drastic deterioration of air quality, which can have severe effects on human health,” concludes the team of scientists in an EGU press release.

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