Anthony J. Sadar: Will Climate Change Crush Air Quality ?

Vol 4.1

Seventy-five years ago, in late 1948, 21 residents of Donora, Pennsylvania, US, and vicinity died from high concentrations of fumes emitted from the local heavy industry. This tragic event in Donora, a small town about twenty miles south of Pittsburgh, sparked the national air quality laws and regulations in the US. The notorious incident was triggered by several days of stagnant air caused by persistent temperature inversions. Temperature inversions have been a key component of some of the worst air pollution generated disasters in history, including in Europe in the 1950s. And interest in the impact of climate change on pollution-inducing temperature inversions is gaining traction. What is a temperature inversion and why is it a challenge to good air quality?

A temperature inversion is an atmospheric condition where warm upper-level air rests above cool lower-level air. This is a stable situation because light air is floating above heavy air, keeping the air from circulating. When a temperature inversion exists at the earth’s surface, the air becomes stagnant and air pollution levels can increase dramatically. Notably, the number and strength of surface inversions can be altered depending on how climate changes, just like severe weather conditions such as tornadoes and hurricanes.

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