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Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith tells the story of our storm warning system. See our online store book collection.

Pollution's Effects on Us

The atmosphere is one of the few resources shared among all Earthís inhabitants. As a consequence, the pollution that spews from a factory in Asia, a fire in Australia, a dust storm in Africa, or car emissions in North America can have a detrimental impact on people and the environment locally or an ocean away.

Scientists have researched and documented many of the local hazards from ozone to atmospheric chemicals that cause acid rain. They have also studied impacts from airborne particles of dust, soot, and other particulate pollutants. From actual events and scientific research, we now know that air pollution can impact human health; that atmospheric haze or smog reduces visibility; and that the acid rain from sulfur dioxide emissions damages property, pollutes water resources, and can harm forests, wildlife, and entire ecosystems.

But what are the regional and global impacts of air pollution? Through large scientific field campaigns such as MILAGRO scientists are focusing on the entire life cycle of air pollution. Their goal is to track its transport from large cities into regional and global environments to better understand the full scope of the problem. In doing so, they will be able to determine pollutionís impact on large natural systems such as Earthís climate.

Is air pollution an example of the "Tragedy of the Commons" ĖĖ a concept that states that any resource open to everyone will eventually be destroyed? While the evidence of human-produced air pollution lends truth to the statement, it is also true that air becomes a Tragedy of the Commons only if people choose not to preserve the atmosphere for themselves and future generations. Much has been done to improve air quality in recent decades, but we still have a long way to go.

Last modified February 17, 2006 by Teri Eastburn.

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The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earthís ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

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