July 25, 2012

Asian Haze is Back

Looking towards the Cascades this morning, much of the detail is obscured and Mt. Rainier is barely visible from Seattle (see image).

And viewing the number of particles in the air from the local air quality network shows an increase in obscuration (this data is from a device called a nephelometer and show the number of small particles).   I have plotted the results from a number of local cities.  They are all heading up.

Why do I think this is from Asia?  One reason is the lastest results of the European Center for Medium Range Forecasting biomass smoke trajectory model, which indiates that some of it is getting across the Pacific (see graphic).

And where is the air over us coming from?   We can compute air trajectories in time to find out!  Here is the answer: from lower levels over Asia, where many fires are still burning (see graphic).  We will be living with this Asian smoke for most of the summer.

It is sobering to contemplate the interconnectivity of the natural environment.  Smoke from Asia (and other pollutants like ozone) can make it across the vast Pacific and obscure our mountains and degrade our air quality.  A tsunami in Japan results in debris reaching our coast.   We ship coal to China and the CO2 from burning it reaches our shores in days.

PS:  The many weather action during the next few days should be convection (thunderstorms) over the Cascades.   Watch as the cumulus develop over the morning hours and blossoms during the afternoon.  And be prepared for a shower if hiking.


  1. To be fair, its not travelling across the "vast pacific" but rather taking a shortcut, much like the Arctic Circle Route, and jumping over Alaska.

  2. So this being the case, why was it so absurd to think that radioactive isotopes from Fukushima would ever reach the PNW?

  3. I would think that it's not absurd regarding radioactivity, but much less likely.

    I would guess that the smoke comes from fires spread over a wide area, and that the plume is fairly wide when it gets here.

    Fukushima is a point source, relatively speaking, and must spread out as the winds carry it. The volume of smoke must be orders of magnitude larger than the volume of radioactivity.

  4. Ace is exactly correct. Fukushima is a point source, whose effluent is dispersed over a huge volume of the atmosphere. The fires cover a very, very wide area and thus a big volume of the atmosphere. So it is not possible for Fukushima to produce high radioactivity levels here is Seattle.

  5. Even so, UC Berkeley conducted a study in which they tested rainwater falling in the Bay Area (on campus) and discovered levels of radioactive Iodine-131 at 18,100% - Yes, Eighteen Thousand One Hundred Percent - the EPA's permissible exposure limit for drinking water.


    God forbid a good portion of us develop thyroid issues in 30 years.

    With concentrations that high on the west coast of the North American continent, I hate to think how bad it was (is?) near that "point source" on the island of Japan. Hardly an incidental amount, to be sure.

  6. Cascadian Patriot,
    Not sure about your numbers...but the Iodine levels did jump to a few hundreds times the EPA standard...but this was spike...only for a day or two. Remember I 131 has a half life of about 8 days. So a few days of being above the standards is really not a serious health risk. I am not saying that no radiation got across...some did. But it was HUGELY mixed out on the way here. In Japan the situation is far more serious of course...cliff

  7. Thank you for your reply, Cliff. And you're absolutely correct that it was only a spike up to those levels that lasted just a few days, but that's beside the point. It's the fact that levels were that high to begin with, at any point, and yet I was told numerous times by countless people - including this government - that radiation would not make it across the Pacific. Apparently, that was an inaccurate assessment.

    And yes, you are absolutely correct that the half-life of I-131 is only 8.5 days, however with contamination levels at 181 times the maximum exposure limit [see snapshot of UCB study datasheet here: http://enenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/ucbchart.jpg] it would take roughly 10 weeks for that level of radioactive iodine to half-life out to "safe" levels. In that amount of time, you know as well as I do a good portion of that (lower level) precipitation has already made its way into our drinking water supply. It only takes one alpha emitter binding with the thyroid to cause irreversible tissue damage. Is that a risk you'd honestly be willing to take with your own (or your children's) health?

    My point in all this is simply; I was (we were all) told in no uncertain terms that radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns flatly would NOT reach the North American continent, and yet it did. The nonchalant, even somewhat arrogant attitude with which I was told this I found naïve and foolhardy, especially now when so clearly outlined in this post, it's obvious that light particulate matter so easily transmits across (or over/around) the Pacific from Asia to the PNW in short order. "Point source" or otherwise, can you not see the err in the original argument?

  8. Cascadian Patriot,
    You are missing the point. No one said that NO radiation would get across...that is silly. Of course, a small amount would and did. But the issue is dosage...that is the essential point you are missing. There was a one-day spike of radioactive materials. The worst case would be if that would immediately enter the water supply...not good, but the dosage over a year would be minimal.
    But that is not what happens, we drink rain from reservoirs. The water takes time to get to the reservoir (and losing radioactivity) the whole time and then it is mixed with HUGE quantities of water from months before. The result...a very, very low dose. Absolutely nothing to worry about. I would drink the water and my kids drank it as well.

    You have to be careful in spreading information that needlessly and inaccurately worries folks. There are plenty of risks in life...radiation from Fukashima is not one of them..cliff

  9. Good post Cliff. Mountains are usually associated with clean air. Are you aware of the air quality in the Hoh River Valley - over in the Olympics? Twenty years ago it had some of the cleanest air in the world. Today the lakes are contaminated with mercury.

    The cost. in the US, of Asian manufactured products isn't just the price we pay at the store - it is also lost views (and Seattle has some of the best views for a metropolitan area), disease and early mortality.

    Cliff Mass said,"Mt. Rainier is barely visible from Seattle". Doesn't all of Seattle's pollution collect down in Enumclaw around Mt. Rainier?

    In 2008, my son & I hiked up to Camp Muir. A young climbing ranger was making great time on his way down - wearing a surgical type mask over his mouth and nose. A low pressure system moved out just 36 hours earlier and there was noticeably more haze than just the previous day when Mt. Jefferson in Oregon was visible.

    I figure the 24 hours after a high pushes a low pressure system out of the area is the best time to be hiking in the Cascades - for the best pictures and for your health.

    Another mountain range where you have to consider pollution is the Wind River range in Wyoming. Out in the middle of nowhere, but fracking operations to the west have created haze and an ozone problem.

  10. Is the Haze a possible explanation to the horrible allergies I and many people I know have been having? I'm not sick, but have been stuffed up with a productive cough (gross stuff, too) since it came around.

  11. Dr Mass, don't see the extended warm up you speak of. Yes, a spike up Saturday in the mid to upper 80's, but then a trend toward an onshore surface flow and cooling late in the day Sunday. Upper ridging to be aligned over the Interior NW into the Northern Rockies much of next week with increasing troughing to follow shortly thereafter. Thermal low will not form, not persist under these conditions, nor will the surface warming.

    Tom Dunklee
    CAS ARA Inc.


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

New Podcast: Showers, Warm Up and Winds on the Eastern Cascades Slopes

  Cold, moist unstable air has been moving into the region on Saturday, with the showers obvious on the high-resolution visible satellite im...