Just because you cannot see it, does not mean that it is not there

For the last few days my eyes have been sore as a result of the mixture of Saharan dust and particulate pollution that has been affecting London and much of the United Kingdom. It is not pleasant but the weather forecasters promise relief soon and those with sore eyes as well as those with heart disease and lung disease will be able to spend time outside in the fine weather, instead of being cooped indoors.

I have been to cities which suffer regularly from the temperature inversion layers that misbehave. Normally air temperature decreases by 6.4°C for every kilometre of height, mixing the warm and cool air and spreading pollutants and particulates (including Saharan dust) thinly. I have experienced this in Mexico City, surrounded by mountains which add to the effect, and in Santiago, Chile, where the same topography creates a similar effect, and in Los Angeles.

London is not surrounded by mountains and the hills that surround it are not high enough to create the classic thermal inversion. What is happening in England now is that warmer less dense air has moved over colder more dense air trapping the pollution in an unmixed state. The present thermal inversion is created by air mass, quite independently of topography. It has happened frequently in the past and was noticeable when we could see the pollution, which was characterised in the 1950s by smogs.

Today the pollution is much less noticeably; we have only been able to observe the pollution because it has mixed in with Saharan dust. If there was no dust carried from the Sahara the pollution would still be there, the air quality would still be poor and people would still suffer in the ways that they are suffering now. That is the thing with pollution: just because you cannot see it, does not mean that it is not there.

It is of no comfort that the problem is exacerbated by the wood pellet burning which is now being paid for by the taxpayer in the name of sustainability and as a result of either government ignorance or carelessness with the environment.

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