China v. Utah: Whose air is worse?

  • Salt Lake City or Beijing?

    Mark Ralston, AFP, Getty Images
  • Salt Lake City or Beijing?

    Ed Kosmicki
  • Quiz answers:

    Mark Ralston, AFP, Getty Images; Ed Kosmicki
  • High above the smog that blankets Utah's Wasatch Front.

    Ed Kosmicki
 

Quiz: Utah's Wasatch Front or Beijing?

1. Which area had the worst air quality in its respective nation during January 2013?

2. Which place prepared for hosting the Olympic games by expanding the public transit network?

3. Which region has real-time air quality data, frequently updated on Twitter?

For answers, see the bottom of this page.

Beijing? Or Utah's Wasatch Front? This winter it's been hard to tell the difference, since the air in both places has been so thick with pollution that you can't tell if you're looking at the Mormon Tabernacle or the Great Hall of the People. On Jan. 23, Provo, Utah's air-quality index hit 190, meaning there were about 130 micrograms of tiny particulates in every cubic meter of air, nearly four times the national ambient air quality standard. (Beijing is much worse, with an AQI sometimes exceeding 500.)

The phenomenon in Utah is caused, first, by particulates spewed into the air by cars, airplanes, wood-burning stoves and a host of industrial sources, including Kennecott mining and smelting operations and a couple of refineries. Then it's trapped by a temperature inversion.

Typically, temperature drops as altitude increases and warm air rises, taking pollution with it. However, during winter days with high barometric pressure, the pattern can be inverted, so that the temperature near the ground is colder than it is up high, creating a "cold air pool" in the Salt Lake Valley and neighboring Utah Valley. At the peak of this year's "mother of all inversions," as University of Utah Atmospheric Sciences Professor Jim Steenburgh called it on his "Wasatch Weather Weenies" blog, the temperature at 7,000 feet of elevation was 40 degrees warmer than it was on the valley floor, 3,000 feet below. That trapped all that nasty smog in the valleys for several days, slashing visibility and making breathing a dangerous pursuit.

Quiz Answers: 1. Both; 2. Both; 3. Beijing (the Wasatch Front has limited air-quality monitors, and a Twitter feed is updated just once per day).

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATERSHED PROGRAMS COORDINATOR
    Are you looking for a positive and success oriented work environment, the opportunity to join a (small but) dynamic group of people supporting watershed activities...
  • BACKCOUNTRY FILM FESTIVAL MANAGER
    Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual to organize our annual Backcountry Film Festival and Tour and coordinate additional...
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...