From space and on the ground, better air quality observed in Beijing

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ImageA few days before the 2008 Olympic Games began last August, China blogger David Dollar noticed that Beijing's efforts to clean up its air seemed to be paying off. Well, it seems that after the officials took the worst polluting vehicles off the road, temporarily shut down some major polluting factories, and limited the amount of traffic, the city's air quality did indeed get better.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) yesterday released a report concluding that Olympic organizers successfully made efforts to improving the city's environment for an "eco-friendly mass spectator sporting event." The press release stated, "These achievements are all the more impressive given that the Games were held in a rapidly developing city in a country facing multiple development challenges in the first decade of the 21st century." You can download the full report here.

An interesting part of the report points to NASA data, which used satellite imagery to demonstrate that air quality over the city improved. wrote about these findings in December:

NASA scientists report the measures had an "unmistakable impact" with levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) – a noxious gas resulting from fossil fuel combustion – falling nearly 50 percent during the two months when restrictions were in place. [...]

Clearly, carbon monoxide concentrations decreased most in the area immediately around Beijing. According to the researchers, led by atmospheric scientist Jacquelyn Witte, carbon monoxide concentrations over Beijing decreased by 20 percent.

David Dollar had hoped the city would learn from its temporary successes and design longer-term policies to keep up the better air quality. Either way, I was really struck by an interesting side note on how the Beijing's actions may help scientists in future research. As noted: "The researchers say China's pollution experiment will help climate scientists refine their emissions models."

Image credit: dngpng at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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