Dr. Wahied Khawar Balwan
The ABC (Asian Brown Cloud) is a stratum of air pollution that periodically envelops parts of south Asia, like northern Indian Ocean, India, and Pakistan. In satellite snapshots, ABC appears as a colossal brown floating continent in air over much of south Asia and India possibly during earlier and later months of every year.
ABC (Asian Brown Cloud) is soup of industrial pollutants, carbon monoxide from vehicle exhausts and particles of soot from burning of forests, municipal wastes, postharvested agricultural residues and millions of rural cooking fires. Because the cloud is capable of being dispersed rapidly around the world,therefore, may affect a much wider area than just Asia. The term ABC seems to have been around for a couple of years in scientific circles, but came to prominence in August, 2002 in a report prepared by climatologists at the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (well-known as 2nd Earth Summit) in the month of September, 2002. The good news, broadcasted by the climatologist was that, unlike other causes of pollution and climate change, this one is curable if Asians can shift tomore efficient ways of burning fuels. The most visible impact of air pollution is the brownish haze (a layer of floating pollutants and particles from biomass burning, vehicle and industrial emissions), a common feature of NCR and industrial regions around the world called as atmospheric brown cloud. It is now becoming clear that the brown cloud can have huge impacts on agriculture, health, climate and water budget of the planet.
The ABC (Asian Brown Cloud) is a layer of air pollution that covers parts of the Asia-Pacific continents, northern Indian ocean, India, parts of south Asia, southeast Asia and China.This floating pollution layer was observed during the Indian Ocean Experiment (INODEX), a project under umbrella of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). “The ABC is also responsible for rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers and may precipitate an environmental disaster that could affect billions of people”. The effects have been linked to the retreat and supply water to major rivers including the Ganges, Yamuna and Indus. These rivers in turn comprise the chief water supply for billions of people in India. The consequences for India whose rivers flow from this source are incalculable, with themelting already being blamed for downstream flooding in late summer. The more frequent downstream flooding, seasonal oscillations and climate change has been noticed in past and present year are supposed to be due to ABC, could not be ignored. Chiefly, domestic wood and dung fires plus smoke burning of forests, fields for agriculture and municipal wastes caused the formation of floating continent of brown cloud on major part of the country. In addition, vehicle exhausts, power plants and factory chimneys added to the mix.The INDOEX has revealed that this haze is transported far beyond the source region, particularly during early and late months of year. Scientists in India are claiming that the “Asian Brown cloud” is not something specific to Asia and does not have a knock-on effect on pollution-related mortality.
There is little awareness about Asian Brown Cloud in the general population. As global warming has emerged as matter of environmental concern for entire world, similarly the ABC is also one essential environmental issue globally and especially for Asian countries. Since the broadcast of INDOEX-UNEP about ABC, it became a matter of gossip in daily news, television and social media during early and latemonths of every year in the capital city of India. Due to the grave impact of ABC as respiratory, skin and visibility problem during day time (brown hazy cloud formation) in the yesteryears, the government of Delhi taken action in public interest and declared holidays in schools, institutions till further notice and also advised to people do wear mask regularly.
ABC: DIRECT AND INDIRECT IMPACT
The available literature and INDOEX-UNEP reports reflected that the haze, ABC has primary impact on regional temperature, precipitation, agriculture, climate, productivity and health. Haze can produce an impact on agriculture productivity in a variety of ways directly and indirectly.The direct effects are: (i) Reduction of total solar radiation in the photosynthetically active part of spectrum, that in turn leads to a declining productivity, (ii) Settling of aerosol particles (fly ash and black carbon) on the plants can shield leaves from solar radiation and may damage plants by increased acidity. The deposition of aerosol can increase acidity and may cause plant damage. However, the indirect effects are: (i) Changes in surface temperature can directly affect growing season, (ii) Surface cooling in tropics can extend growing season, (iii) Frequent changes in greenhouse gases and particulate matters in the environment, (iv) Changes in surface evaporation and rate of precipitation, rainfall.
ABC: PERSPECTIVE TO HEALTH AND CLIMATE CHANGE
The joint study of World Health Organization (WHO), World Resources Institute (WRI) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) estimated that nearly each of the 23 cities with a population of over a million in India, air pollution levels exceed the standards. A study of year 2005 study indicated nearly two million people die each year, in Asia alone, from conditions related to the brown cloud. The wide publicity given to the release of an UNEP report on the so-called Asian Brown Cloud and its multifarious impacts on health, agriculture and climate, on both regional and global scales, has led to considerable concern. It occurs every year, extends from about November to March and possibly might be longer. The black carbon and other species in haze reduce the average irradiative heating of ocean by as much as 10% and enhance the atmospheric solar irradiativeheating by 50-100%. The prolonged duration of the haze, black carbon content, large perturbation to the irradiative energy budget and simulated impact on the rainfall distribution, if proved correct, have significant implications to regional water budget, agriculture, climate and health. The link between anthropogenic aerosols and reduction of monsoonal rainfall in south Asia has also been established using over 15 model studies preceding the UNEP report.
The report of year 2007 also addressed the global concern of warming and concluded that the brown clouds have masked 20 to 80% of greenhouse gases in the past century. The report suggested that air pollution regulations can have large amplifying effects on global warming. In a study of 2011 found that pollution is making Arabian sea cyclones more intense as the atmospheric brown clouds has been producing weakening wind patterns which prevent wind shear patterns that historically have prohibited cyclones in the Arabian sea from becoming major storms. This phenomenon was found responsible for the formation of stronger storms in yesteryears.
ABC: AN IGNOMINIOUS WAFTING TOXIC CLOUD
When the researchers first began noticing this smoggy haze, they thought it might be confined to major cities. As it turned out, it became an enormous blanket covering much of the area around the northern Indian Ocean. This part of the world is home to nearly 3 billion people, or about half the world’s population, and it is industrializing rapidly. Most of the new industries here are using old-fashioned, highly polluting engines and fuels. The Asian Brown Cloud, the thick haze caused by pollution that hangs over southern Asia, is rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers and could precipitate an environmental disaster that could affect billions of people, scientists have warned. Therefore, the Asian Brown Cloud was added to the ignominious list.A study published in British journal claimed the thick plume floating over the region is as much to blame as greenhouse gases for warming of glaciers on the 3rd largest ice mass on planet, Tibetan plateau. However, the analysis of pollution-filled clouds also offers hope that the region may be able to arrest alarming retreat of such glaciers and ensure the security of water supplies by reducing pollution, for instance by cutting the dependence on wood burning stoves. The brown haze was believed to cool the land and sea beneath them by filtering out sunlight, known as global dimming, and not contribute much to global warming. But black soot particles in cloud absorbed the sunlight and therefore, warmed the atmosphere around them more than believed. The conventional thinking is that brown clouds have masked as much as 50% of the global warming by greenhouse gases through the socalled global dimming, said Dr.Ramanathan. While this is true globally, this study reveals that over southern and eastern Asia, the soot particles in brown clouds are intensifying the atmospheric warming trend caused by greenhouse gases significantly. The combined heating effect of greenhouse gases and brown clouds, which contain soot, trace metals and other particles from a growing cadre of urban, industrial and agricultural sources, is enough to account for the retreat of Himalayan glaciers observed in the past half century. The rapid melting of these glaciers if becomes widespread and continues for several more decades, will have unprecedented downstream effects on southern and eastern Asia.12 The main cause of climate change is the build-up of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, said Achim Steiner, United Nations under-secretary General and Executive Director, UNEP. But brown clouds, whose environmental and economic impacts are beginning to be unraveled by scientists, are complicating and in some cases aggravating their effects.
By the comprehensive, meticulous and wideranging study, it is clear that the UNEP broadcasting about Asian Brown Cloud has created awareness about pollution and their consequences. This should give an impetus to the ongoing program for reduction of harmful emissions in our cities. People living in Asia must be concerned about this haze because it has immediate and long-term impacts on their health, seasonality, climate change and water budget. Additionally, there is also a sudden rise in pollution during the festivals due to excessive fireworks was also the stuff of tittle-tattle in yesteryear and supposed to be the source of ABC in the mega-metro cities including capital city of India. In India, so far work done related to ABC and global warming is mainly confined to research, conferences, seminars and workshops, while the general population having very little knowledge about these burning issues. Thus general population is usually unaware about the recent environmental trends as a result of which the pollution is rising on a daily basis. These environmental issues may be due to increasing number of automobile vehicles, various industries disposal, indoor pollution, burning of municipal wastes, forests and post harvested agricultural residues, etc. All these growing environmental concerns are somewhere interlinked either in causative factors or in the ways of preventing them. Hence, it is an urgent need to sensitize the general population about such growing environmental issues. Therefore, year after theUNEP came out with a statement concerning the existence of a 3.0km immense coating of wafting pollutants admitted “Asian Brown Cloud” over south Asia and India, the Government of India has decided to launch a steady study to determine how far India is responsible for it and what are the consequences on population and environment?
“Any Error in this manuscript is silent testimony of the fact that it was a human effort”
Dr. Wahied Khawar Balwan
Senior Assistant Professor
Department of Zoology
Govt. postgraduate Bhaderwah
E-mail: [email protected]
Mobile No.: 9419369557