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Can you see Pollution in the Air?

Some parts of the air are only there because we (human beings) put them there. We do that by burning fuel (in cars, wood-burners, barbeques, airplanes, ships etc.) or by making stuff (phones, sneakers, houses, everything!). Sometimes you can see this pollution, like smoke from a chimney or a haze over a city) but a lot of times you can’t.

Driving in the Car or Walking


Cars are one of the ways we burn fuel every day and put pollution into the air for people to breathe in. When we walk we just burn our own energy. That means we need more oxygen (O2) and we breathe more. Is that ok? Mostly, yes. It makes us fitter and healthier. Sometimes when you’re not so healthy (for instance, if you have asthma) being around a lot of air pollution can make it harder to breathe. But for most people, walking and burning your own energy is good for you and good for the environment.

Traffic Pollution in Auckland (maximum NO2 air quality index across the region)

Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is a pollutant that comes mainly from cars, trucks and buses and it can irritate your nose and throat if there is too much of it. Also, NO2 gives the sunset a reddish colour. In most parts of Auckland, there is not enough NO2 to make it an issue except near very busy roads. The plot below shows the amount of NO2 in Auckland over the past few days. (Copyright: Data from the International Air Quality Index project)

Particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution in Auckland (maximum PM10 air quality index across the region)


Particulate matter (PM) is what we call the dust and smoke suspended in the air. PM2.5 refers to particles smaller than 2.5microns. These particles are so small that you’d need 50 thousand of them to make one grain of sand! They are so small that they can get into the deepest parts of our lungs and cause difficulty to breath. Because of the wind, most of the time Auckland has rather low levels of PM2.5 but in winter when we burn wood to heat our homes and the wind is less intense, the levels can get quite high. The plot below shows the amount of PM2.5 observed in Auckland over the past few days. (Copyright: Data from the International Air Quality Index project)

General pollution links: - Particles swirling in the atmosphere Is New Zealand really clean and green? - How air pollution affects your health - infographic - Cleaner air for all - Are you at risk? Air pollution - Air pollution in Kazakhstan - Timelapse of smog rolling into Beijing - Pollution - It’s bad for the environment (and people too!) - Exploring the invisible universe that lives on us and in us - Air pollution facts - Pollution experiment


Climate Change links: - The countries most likely to survive climate change - Climate extremes, regional imapcts, and the case for resilience - Climate impact on people - Timo Liebers arctic photography - Breathing earth simulation - Yes, Mr. President, We Remade Our Atlas to Reflect Shrinking Ice - Glittering Blue - How much warmer was your city in 2015? - Oceans are absorbing almost all of the globe’s excess heat - Timeline of earth's average temperature - Cloud globe - Breathing earth - Global temperature change - Enigma - 2014 was the hottest year on record - Carbon emissions: past present and future - - Global temp change spiral - surging seas risk zone map - NASA climate change - NASA climate resource centre - Science Learning Hub - climate change - Climate Kids - A Song of our Warming Planet - NIWA - Activities for students

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