Joint Indian and Mason Team Discover Cause of Winter Pollution in North India

Posted: March 14, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lori Jennings

Menas Kafatos
Menas Kafatos

A key link between North India’s winter haze and smoke and the country’s high concentration of power plants has been discovered by Menas Kafatos, dean of the School of Computational Sciences, in collaboration with an Indian research team.

Using NASA satellite data and ground-based network stations, the team found that ash from coal-fired thermal power plants is the main culprit behind the haze, which leads to significant respiratory illness in India’s population and contributes to cancellation of the region’s airline flights.

The haze, which affects approximately 600 million people in North India, including the large cities of Delhi and Kanpur, was previously attributed to bio-fuel cooking or burning cow dung. However, the researchers’ analysis, which looked at man-made “aerosols” or pollutant particles, actually found that the region’s use of coal-burning power plants – in large part due to India’s rapid industrialization – is the primary cause for the area’s pollution.

“This finding is of great importance to those living in India, as well as to researchers concerned with reducing pollution and protecting environmental standards in the world’s megacities,” says Kafatos. “We know that these releases, though particularly detrimental to those living in the region, do affect our climate from a global perspective.”

The one-year study was a partnership between George Mason University and the Indian Institute of Technology (ITT), based in Kanpur. Kafatos and Ramesh Singh, ITT professor, recently published their findings in the prestigious journal of the American Geophysical Union, Geophysical Research Letter.

The researchers plan to alert authorities of national thermal power corporations to the health hazard posed by the plants and suggest planning future sites away from major cities.

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