DUBAI - A body of pollution which has been
identified in the skies across Asia is now threatening to
engulf the Middle East and make the planet a drier place, a
leading environmental scientist said on Tuesday.
Veerabhadran Ramanathan, who led 1999 research into what
was dubbed the "Asian Brown Cloud," said there was evidence the
Gulf region was being sucked into a global pollution circuit
moving several miles above ground.
"The Middle East has to be part of our program because here
the problem is that the dust and pollution can interact,"
Ramanathan said on the sidelines of a conference on atmospheric
pollution in the Gulf city of Dubai.
"I presumed this region was clean, but the dust haze in the
desert is a lot less than here in the city. Then I saw this
picture," he said, pointing to aerial shots of a cloud hanging
over Dubai, a modern city of skyscrapers on the edge of desert.
"This haze is about 300 meters (yards) above the ground, I
would say. It could be coming locally or from several hundred
kilometers away," he said, adding no research had been done
into the effects of oil refineries along the Gulf coastline.
Ramanathan's team, backed by the United Nations Environment
Program (UNEP), first identified a blanket of chemicals and
dust from cars, aerosols and agricultural and industrial waste
across most of South Asia in 1999.
The discovery provoked denials from Indian officials who
felt India was being singled out as a culprit and was seen by
some as vindicating the Bush administration in 2001 when it
pulled out of the global Kyoto climate treaty.
Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist at the Scripps
Institution of Oceanography at the University of California,
said the major contributors to a worldwide circle of pollution
were Los Angeles, Delhi, Bombay, Beijing and Cairo.
"Pollution in the eastern United States can go in four or
five days to Europe and in a week it goes from Europe to South
Asia. This is fast transport which converts a local problem
into a regional and global problem," the Indian scientist said.
He and the UNEP have ditched the reference to Asia, now
preferring "Atmospheric Brown Cloud" or just "Brown Cloud," he
Most scientists studying global warming due to ozone
depletion are predicting a warmer but wetter world because of
the melting of polar icecaps.
But Ramanathan said he suspected the effect of the shroud
of pollution across the globe would be to dry the planet.
"We're interested to see if the planet will be warmer and
wetter or warmer and drier. My research suggests a large drying
effect, especially in the Tropics," Ramanathan said, referring
to the area stretching from South Asia to Africa.
"The haze is reducing sunlight to the oceans and one of the
things sunlight does is evaporate water from the ocean which
gives us rain in the water cycle," he said.
He said recent research by his team in an agricultural
plain running across north India near the Himalayas showed that
10 to 17 percent of sunlight was not reaching the ground.
The team made use of advanced satellite imagery, but the
focus of environmental work needed to shift to the processes
going on inside the pollution band itself, Ramanathan said.
"We need ground observatories which can probe the
atmosphere, which can be integrated with satellite
observation...We need to use laser instruments and unmanned
aircraft to monitor up to four km (2.5 miles) in the air," he
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